Kyrgyzstan Bike-Packing Day 17: Oh FLOCK!
We awake to glorious blue skies (with a few renegade clouds about). Hallelujah!! Yippeeee!!!! Yeeehaaa!!!! We are ecstatic and feeling energized by the sun, as it slowly peeps up over the mountain. It’s astounding how the temperature drops the minute a wisp of cloud blocks the warming rays. We make a breakfast of rice cooked with condensed milk and some coffee, then strike camp (the tents dry fast, even in the weak sun). We perform much-needed ablutions, wash the mud off the bikes and lube the chains and we’re ready to roll. Man, after 36 hours in a tent, I’m glad to be on the move again. I was beginning to feel like a regular bag lady!
We ride/walk across the bumpy grass and cross a rickety bridge, which leads us to the top of the pass at 3700m (actually marginally lower than the lake where we spent the last 2 nights).
We encounter the 10h30 flock coming up the tiger line and through the neck. The herders indicate for us to wait, so we haul out the last wedge of bread and break it in 3, spread with honey. Breakfast #2.
When the last of the sheep pass, we bid the herders Salaam and begin the long haul down. Wow, this is rough! We maneuver the bikes between huge boulders and over loose, rocky shale. We can see the 11h00 and 11h30 flocks milling below, awaiting their turn to tackle the ascent.
When we reach a small, ice blue lake, the first flock is poised for take-off. We pull to the side and perch on a rock to watch the spectacle.
The sheep are grazing all around us. “How on earth are they going to gather them all together?” we wonder. The herdsmen and dogs are masterful and we watch in awe as they whistle and crack their whips. In no time the flock is together and heading firmly upwards.
We continue, slipping and sliding our way down until we are forced to pull over yet again, this time for a herd of horses.
We hoist our bikes right off the path and perch them on the mountainside (the horses are very skittish around unusual objects), then we watch & wait, and so it goes, flock after flock, until we finally reach another stunning lake at the bottom and then begin the gnarly climb up the other side.
We have fun trying to get up without putting a foot down and almost make it, but the final bit is just too steep and rocky.
At the top we meet 3 cyclists from the Czech Republic, who are heading the other way. Luckily for them, they are traveling super-light and are on full sus bikes. I would NOT want to push these loaded bikes up what we just came down!!
We then head down into the Valley and once again feel like we’re in the Swiss Alps. This is our final stretch of wilderness before we reach the tourist hub of Karakol.
“Aren’t you going to take a photo of the river?” I ask Steve. “Nah, it’s just another spectacular gorge…”, “Oh my God, did you hear what you just said!?”
We laugh at the irony. He’s right though, it’s almost futile to try and capture this indescribable beauty with our very basic cameras. You need state of the art equipment with big lenses to do this justice.
On the one hand we wish we had more food with us, so that we could make use of the myriad fabulous camping opportunities, on the other hand we are eager for a shower, a proper bed and a decent meal.
We leave the off-road trails of the valley, join a district road and shortly thereafter, reach the outer suburbs and hit the main tar road to Karakol. It’s a whole different world down here. We have no appetite for slogging out the 40km to town on this busy road, so we negotiate a taxi – 500 Som (R100) deal! We practically take the minibus apart to get the bikes and all our stuff in.
Once we’re all firmly packed in, the driver changes his mind, 1000 Som, he says. “Fuck off! “, declares usually amiable Steve and he starts unpacking the bikes. (Not that it’s expensive mind you, just totally bad faith).
“Nyet, nyet, leave them in! “he gestures, Steve puts the wheels back, “700” says the driver, Steve starts unpacking again, “Nyet, nyet put them back, 500”. We all pile in and we’re off.
We give him 600 in the end and he’s all smiles and so are we when we see the 2 en suite bedrooms at The Riverside Guest House.
Not to mention the uber friendly hostess, who makes us feel so welcome.
I scrub every square inch of my body and we hand over practically every piece of clothing we own to be laundered.
I feel a little embarrassed at the state of our kit – filthy and smelly it most certainly is!
Feeling squeaky clean, we cycle into town to find dinner at the hotel-recommended restaurant and enjoy traditional Kyrgyz-style food (though clearly catering to Westerners). We are just fine with that.
It’s uphill all the way back home and we are so ready for bed when we get there.
I visit the loo at least 3 times before going to sleep, just because I can and I drink glass after glass of filtered water from the dispenser – no need to go down to the river and nuke it first and no need to worry that I’ll need to pee in the middle of the night.
There’s nothing like some good old-fashioned hardship to make you appreciate the day to day comforts we take so for granted!