Kyrgyzstan Bike-Packing Day 20: Issy Kul
It’s 100km on a busy road from Karakol to Bokonbaevo, the town from which we can best access Lake Issyk Kul by bike. We search in vain for a mini bus that can take us and our bikes. A driver with a regular station wagon insists it can be done, we insist it can’t.
Eventually, after much calculating and scratching of his head, Steve declares he can make it work. Down go all the passenger seats but one, off come the wheels, out come the seat posts, handlebars turned and the 3 bikes are stacked upright, balancing on their forks.
Bags, wheels, tents, etc fill the gaps. Kati in the front, Steve in the passenger seat and I, predictably, since I am the smallest, perched in the crack between the passenger seat and the folded seats, legs thrown over the fold. It’s a regular sardine can, but we did it! Steve says it’s his best achievement to date on this trip…
The driver is excellent. We feel safe. He sticks to the agreed price of 2200 Som. We give him 2500.
Once the bikes are re-assembled, we find a local eating joint for lunch (never a good idea to shop on an empty stomach) and then we stock up on basics. We will be camping again for the next 2 or 3 nights. Kati insists on buying a bright yellow blow up duck for swimming in the lake. Duckey is strapped to the back of her bike, where he bobs along merrily, enjoying the view. Finally, after endless faffing, we are off. It feels great to be pedalling again!
Just out of town we pull over at a “public toilet” to put on cycle shorts. The holes in the ground can barely be called facilities, but hey, “when in Rome…”, hold your nose!
We hit a climb quite soon and the legs protest. The few days of rest have taken their toll, but it’s not long before they get back in the swing and then, before we know it, we’re headed down towards the lake. We ride on a small track a few meters from the water and when this becomes too sandy, we ride on the beach. The landscape is mind-blowing: blue, blue lake to the right, framed by snow-capped peaks; sandy, dry river bed and scrub to the left framed by layer after layer of intricately patterned and variously coloured sandstone hills and beyond those, more snow-capped peaks.
The Sea buckthorn berries, the juice of which we drank yesterday, are growing in abundance all around and I understand now why it was so expensive. It must be a mission to harvest! I’m glad we tried it.
As we bump along, I notice that one of my panniers is hanging wonkey. I have a screw loose again! Luckily, I catch it before the vital part is lost, as Steve is all out of big screws and in this case, size really does matter… Seriously Ortlieb? It’s either shoddy workmanship or a design flaw or maybe these panniers are not cut out for such rough terrain.
We set up camp on a secluded beach. (Thank goodness we were warned to bring water, as the rivers are all bone dry and the lake is saline!) We swim in the lake. It is fantastic – warm, but refreshing. Kati is getting alarmingly attached to her blow-up doll! Wonder about her choice of name, “Duckey… Lucky?”
There are hordes of little white flies about, which concerns us at first, but they seem to stick mainly to the bushes, rising up in a loud, buzzing frenzy when there is any movement nearby. We cover ourselves in tabard, just in case and settle down on the sand to make dinner. I can honestly say it’s the worst bowl of pasta I have ever eaten. We are clearly not hungry enough for such sub-standard fare and have been spoilt by our days of feasting in Karakol. But no matter, the setting is so sublime. We sit on the beach and watch the sunset and wish we’d brought a bottle of wine from The Lighthouse.
As darkness descends, we climb into our tents, with promises to watch the sun rise over the lake at 05h00…