We stayed another night in Naryn after the Ethno festival. When we came back, I headed out to get some beers for the late evening, but after less than one we were too tired to continue and went to bed. The next morning we planned to go south, towards lake Kel Suu in the south. The road was good in the beginning, but quickly began to get worse. From tarmac to gravel to sand to grass trails and some mud. At some point there was a junction and we decided to go left, where we saw some ruins of buildings. These ruins were probably an old soviet military complex. When we got out and inspected the place, we found some rather unsettling animal remains strung up on a wall, blood having flowed out on the bricks. The site was obviously used as a station for cattle. When we saw no way over the river on the left, we took the right side. Pretty fast there was no real path to speak of, while on the map there should be one. We followed the line on the map as close as we could and drove up into the hills. The view started getting better and better. On our left side, a weather front caused a rainbow, from which only the top was visible over a ridge. We continued on the “path”, slowly driving towards real mountain peaks. We passed rock formations on high plains at about 3800 meters and paused again to take some pictures. After that we followed what looked like a removed border fence. Barbed wire was still all over the place so we had to get out of the car to clear it sometimes. The terrain got more and more rugged until the path seemed to lead down again. But no one had been there in years, that was certain. There was so much barbed wire everywhere and the path completely disappeared. At some point were driving at such an angle that I started to get a little nervous. The ground was also unstable and when I eased the car into a hole, I didn’t trust it anymore. I put the car in reverse and… nothing. We were stuck on a mega steep way down. There were a few more really creepy parts where I imagined the car would go into a barrel roll down the hill, but luckily that didn’t happen, and after an hour or two we made it down into another beautiful valley. Exhausted we set up the tent and made a quick noodle dinner. What a day!
We woke up, had breakfast, efficiently cleaned up camp and continued the last kilometers to Kel Suu. It was raining and everything had turned quite muddy. So the way there wasn’t easy. We met other people in Toyotas, and one of then got stuck in a small mud stream. We drove around them with high speed to make it through the bog, and made it! After that, we had to drive around the main path because it was too slippery, and made it to a point where we decided it was enough. We would walk the last 2 kilometers. The walk was really beautiful. A few streams to cross and high peaks all around us while we climbed the barrier in front of the lake, which was formed by an earthquake. The pictures can speak for themselves.
When we came back, another team with landcruisers had tried to make it through the final bog, with no success. One car ended up severely stuck. We couldn’t help without getting stuck as well so we left it to a guy with horses and the other cars that were there. For the way back we chose another, less extreme, path. Actually, we didn’t go back, but decided to make the loop along the Chinese border, past the border control. This way was a bit far, and we didn’t completely full on diesel. But I calculated that we could probably make it :). When we entered a tiny (military?) outpost of some kind, we were discouraged to take the route by a drunk old soldier who offered us Kumuz. Apparently there would be a “Daroga plocha” (Bad road) ahead. But we persevered and drove on, finding a nice camp spot a bit further down the road. It hadn’t been so bad thus far and the sunset was spectacular. In the night it froze a bit.
The next day we continued with half a tank of diesel, and half full of confidence that we would make it to the next gas station. The road did indeed become a lot worse with a bunch of river crossings on the way. One of those caused a little bit of a tense situation when we kind of got stuck in the middle. The gravel was rather soft and kind of dug ourselves in a little. But the water still wasn’t up to the doors and after some wiggling we managed to get out, and drove a bit downstream, toward the other side. We got out and continued on gravel and sand roads towards the border crossing. Some parts of the path in the end were actually quite smooth so we made good time. When we arrived at the border, we were stopped by Kyrgyz and Chinese border guards. They were very friendly and when we showed our permit they shortly inspected the car, and let us pass. From there, the tarmac was brand new and really smooth. We made it to a gas station with about 1/5 tank to spare. When we arrived back in Naryn, we drove over a speed bump, nearly opposite to the CBT office, and a ‘clunk’-sound appeared. When we made another turn and hit a few minor holes, the clunk became even louder. So I dove under the car, to find that the shock absorber had dislodged itself from the frame, and a big washer (o-ring) was completely destroyed. Luckily there was a garage on the other side of the road where they found one in a box of spare parts. With a few Lada rubber rings, they fixed the problem and, when I asked, also realigned the wheels, which they were not able to do in Osh. Brutus was all set for the next leg of the trip, the 4×4 and Tosor pass, directly to lake Issyk Kul. But first, one more night in the building behind the CBT office.
In Osh, a couple from Germany in a Land cruiser 79 (The backroad vagrants) told me about the 4×4 trail towards Issyk Kul, which seemed like a cool way to go. This was what we set out to do in the next few days. Pretty quickly the road became mountainous and the surroundings amazing. Green walls on either side started closing in while the road snaked up along a river. After a few hours we stopped to set up a camp, but were soon chased away again by the sheer amount of irritating flies. We had the same in two other spots so we drove on for about an hour more until we found a beautiful spot next to the river, next to a rock face. There were practically no flies there so we set up a happy camp. It was nice and warm that evening so we played some games and drank beer. When we cleaned up the camp the next day, we found out that we had somehow parked on top of a hotspot for earwigs. Every corner and crevice was filled with them. I found about 20 in the bag for the tent pegs, and the same amount in all corners of the awning.
For the next leg, it was one amazing valley after the other with typical Kyrgyz green and half clouded skies for dramatic effect. We stopped to ask some cyclists if they were doing ok, and offered them tea. Right after that we were asked to come over by locals, to their yurt that was nearby. They were just handling their animals and were glad to take some pictures with us. We were also allowed to sit on their horses. Then we were asked inside where tea, bread and milk products were served for us as is traditional in the region. One of the guys started playing his 3 string guitar while the other was dancing around, asking us to join him. Hilarity followed when also the Kumuz was offered and one of the guys showed interest in one of the cyclists in a rather… direct way :). After an hour or so, after exchanging some gifts and handshakes, they were ready to get back to work, and we to get back on the road. The cyclists told us that not far down the road there would be a hot spring. We stopped there for a bath. It was the hottest hot spring I’ve ever been in. Scolding skin reddening water in an old shabby building. But we managed to get into the water, which must have been 60 degrees or so. All tingly and red skinned we got back on the road again, towards the Tosor pass. We arrived an hour later after a few river crossings due to collapsed bridges. This road must once have been much better maintained. The Tosor pass was the first real amazing looking mountain pass, even though it was lower than some of the previous ones. We drove between 2 peaks, one of them with a glacier flowing from the top, into a glacier lake. Even the typical green had disappeared from view, and only came back a couple of hundreds of meters back down the hill. The path on the way down was abysmal, but it only took about 2 hours to get to lake Issyk Kul, where we found a beach to camp on.
We were rather rudely awoken by a local, tapping on Brutus, telling us to leave his beach. We were urged to depart in 5 minutes by the crankiest man I have seen on my whole trip. His son was apologetically smirking when I told him to relax and we would be out of his way in an hour. He persisted would have to be 5 minutes and sat down at the coastline, making sure that we would. But we took our time waking up and slowly cleaning up camp. We decided to have breakfast some other, more quiet, place. We also took a dip in the lake there, it being surprisingly warm for a lake at that height. ‘Fairy tale valley’ was nearby so after our swim we went there for a look. I wouldn’t call it a fairy tale, but there are some pretty great, colorful rock formations to see there. When we had checked that out, we headed towards the town Karakol. When we drove in, we saw two familiar cyclists driving in the direction of the center. We caught up with Ash and Natalie who told us that they were in a hostel on the edge of town, owned by a dutch (Twents) guy and his Kyrgyz wife. We had already found this place on the map so we went there as well. We were allowed to put up our tent in the garden. That evening we went to a pizza and sushi place with Ash, Natalie and a Canadian guy.
Karakol is apparently the place to go horse tracking from, so we used the next day to organize a small trip into the hills. They would have horses and a guide ready for us the next day at 10, on a location somewhere out of town. The rest of the day we used to relax, write, eat, drink and watch Zoolander in the hostel.
We managed to find the place that was given to us by the tour operator and were soon on the back of 2 relaxed horses. The guide spoke a bit of English, and explained to us what stop and go was. For the rest he was interested in my favorite music, football team and religion and such. The trip was very nice. We managed to kilter and gallop without falling off and the surroundings were awesome. My horse was a little lazy and complainy, but after 5 hours it was me who was quite tired and in pain while the horse seemed fine. Ilse was also quite done with it after that. We thanked the guide for the trip and his patience. It was still early in the day so we were still able to do a 120 km drive northwards, and find a suitable camping spot in a rather touristy gorge.
Wow, that all went rather quickly. It was already time to head off to Bishkek, where Ilse would fly home and leave again. We checked into hostel Nomad in the east of town where, again, we were allowed to put up the tent in the garden. The next day we spent walking around Bishkek, finding some nice fountains, statues, markets and sadly only closed museums. That evening we went to have food with people from the hostel, and the next day it was time to bring Ilse to the airport and say goodbye! :_(
In the next post I continue eastward (but first westward) on my own again.