Kyrgyzstan – Reunions and Reverie

8/11 – 8/13  Osh (the other city in Kyrgystan besides Bishkek)

Exhausted and mentally drained from the Pamirs, I was much in need of some comfort in Osh: a shower, large portions of nutritious food, and most of all–a place to vegetate. Luckily, at the beginning of my trip in Turkey, through word-of-mouth, I was added to an email list for people who were cycling the Silk Road this year. Because of this, I found out from other cyclists that I could have my own room (and bathroom) at the Stary Gorod Hotel in Osh for only 300 som ($6) per night. What a deal! Other cyclists I met paid that much just to camp. Thank you fellow cyclists for the inside scoop!

From the outside, the hotel looked half abandoned apartment building. To get there, you had to weave through a flower shop, walk across a disheveled courtyard, and squeeze between two collapsing concrete walls. Of course, in typical Central Asian style, there were no signs, not even at the front door to tell you that you were at a hotel.

Eventually I found Mira, the friendly manager of the hotel. She spoke some English and from the moment I met her, she took care of me almost like a daughter. She lived alone in one of the hotel rooms so I think she was very happy to have me as company. The rest of her family was living and working in Russia. Despite its sketchy looks from the outside, the hotel was comfortable on the inside, with several simple, clean rooms on the second floor. Later, I learned from Mira why the rest of the building and the neighborhood looked so shotty: the buildings were set on fire during the Osh riots in 2010, and she (and her neighbors) hadn’t had time or money to repair the damages. The riots were a result of some ethnic clashes in the city. Mira said the issues have since been resolved and there was no need to worry now.

P1020803simple comforts for the weary. my own hotel room!

With such comfortable accomodation, I decided to stay a few days in Osh. While other tourists went exploring the city, I did practically nothing the entire time. Sometimes you really just need to vegetate. I bought myself a huge jar of honey and lemons from the bazaar to ease the cough and spent most of my time resting as much as I could. Simply finding lemons at the bazaar was a delight! Citrus doesn’t grow in these parts of the world, so they’re hard to find.

Compared to the Pamirs, Osh was filled with lots of goodies:

P1020809the bazaar in Osh was one of my favorites–very lively and bustling. also, there were goat heads (with eyes and everything) for sale! Sorry I don’t have a picture of them!

P1020804Uyghur laghman–noodles with yummy meat sauce. Uyghurs are from Xinjiang Province in China. One plate at a fantastic price of $1.25. Although, I had to eat two plates to fill me up for a meal.

 

P1020805Which cell phone number would you like?

P1020806Beijing Market in Osh: where there is karaoke! and Chinese restaurants! Moshii and I went to the Shanghai restaurant for dinner one day. Everyone working there was Chinese, and all the customers eating there were also Chinese (local workers). It felt so good to understand their language and order food in Chinese. The other amazing thing at the restaurant was the TV had CCTV (Chinese satellite channel that we also get in the US), and it was showing the same dating show that I watched with my parents (don’t ask…) before I left!

P1020807gulyash lunch

P1020811Turkish bakery with lots of yummy baked goods

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8/14 Osh -> Ozgen

After 4 days of proper food and rest, I was fit enough to continue cycling again. Though I still felt low in spirit (the thought of another dirt road or uphill was almost unbearable), I told myself it was all mental. Worrying and moping about in the city wasn’t going to improve things.

From Osh I decided to take the main, paved road to Bishkek. Originally, I had wanted to take an alternative route to visit the more scenic parts of Kyrgystan but that would entail many more steep uphills and bad roads, which sounded miserable at this point in time. While riding out of Osh, I felt a bit defeated for being too tired to take the scenic route, but after a day of cycling alone, I came to peace with myself. One of the best things about cycling alone is it gives you the time and space to think through things. I reasoned:

1) “The mountain will always be there”– MITOC Winter School saying that means “You can always to come back!”

2) Next time, I’ll know more Russian

3) Next time, with a fresh start, I’ll be excited about dirt roads and mountains

4) Next time, maybe you, my friends, can join me for a REVENGE trip to Kyrgyzstan, where we’ll take revenge on the places I couldn’t take on this time.

P1020812P1020819looks like the American Midwest. Corn and hay!

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8/15 Ozgen -> Kochkor-Ata camp field

In the morning while I was resting under a tree, feeling tired again, I saw a cyclist. The yellow panniers on the bike looked vaguely familiar. Was that Marko from Slovenia?! Yes it was! I had met him 3 months and 5 countries ago in Tbilisi Georgia…waaaay back when I was with Mehdi and Mahyar (remember my Iranian friends?) Seemed like a decade ago, a different trip–it was incredible to see him again! Back in Georgia, we had talked about cycling together but he was stuck in Tbilisi sorting out visa issues and became at least 2 weeks behind me. I never saw him again…until Kyrgyzstan!

Turns out, he also cycled the same difficult route as me through the Pamirs, and he said the Pamirs destroyed him to pieces too. He had to rest 2 days in Osh and eventually he even decided to go home (also because he got a job offer). After talking to him, I felt much better about feeling so weak after the Pamirs. I wasn’t crazy after all. An important lesson in self-respect!

Marko was also headed to Bishkek and we decided to travel together. After meeting Marko, I became even happier about my decision to take the main road. Ah, how things always work out for the better! Marko and I couldn’t stop marvelling about the paved road and abundance of well-stocked shops and teahouses. Many other cyclists said the main road from Osh to Bishkek was one of the most boring roads, but I think they just couldn’t appreciate it like we did.

The next 7 days on the main road became one of the best bike touring I’ve ever had: lots of eating, barbecued meat, cold drinks, swimming, and summer-time joys!

P1020818jarma, local fermented drink of barley and yogurt. Marko says, BLEGH. I say, this just tastes like watery yogurt with barley.

P1020820Marko and I find camp on a field. Three high-school boys who lived nearby visited us at dinner. They gave us a large watermelon and jarma. We learned from chatting with them that they really liked Justin Bieber. Really? Yes.

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8/16 Kochkor-Ata  -> camp with expedition guys (Max, Theo, Calum) and Thomas

Luxury bike touring to Bishkek continues:

P1020822obligatory melon stop. Marko says: Boy, I’m going to miss those melons when I go home to Slovenia in several days!

P1020824lunch stop at teahouse. shashlik–barbecue meat. mmm….

P1020836beautiful views along the Naryn River

P1020838started seeing stretch Hummer limos as soon as I entered Kyrgyzstan. definitely one of the wealthier Central Asian countries. this one was for a wedding.

P1020840large hydroelectric dam

P1020842P1020843following the Naryn River gorge, reminiscent of the Columbia River Gorge in Washington and Oregon

In the afternoon, as we were riding through the beautiful Naryn River gorge, a car passed us and we heard lots of shouting and honking. When I looked up, I saw a familiar looking car. It was the expedition guys I shared an apartment with in Dushanbe! Incredible to see them one month later in Kyrgyzstan. And boy, did we had stories to tell! They succeeded climbing Mt. Christopher Ward (mountain named after their sponsor), of course with many adventures along the way, such as: one lost his passport when his backpack rolled off a cliff into a roaring gorge, two others ripped their pants open, and one hitchhiked through the Pamirs after their climb.

P1020844Who’s that? The expedition guys from Dushanbe! One month later, now in Kyrgyzstan, with many stories to tell–I of cycling the Pamirs, and they of climbing Mt Christopher Ward.

P1020845Camping together with the expedition guys. Max tells us about meeting a French guy who is travelling to Istanbul by horse. the French guy spent 3 years in Kyrgyzstan looking for a suitable horse; he used to be a shepherd in the Swiss alps. Also, Thomas defines “embassy pants”–the one “clean” pair of pants you have on a bike tour for going to the embassy when you apply for visas; unfortunately for Thomas, his embassy pants ripped the last time he sat in a taxi to get to the embassy. When that happens, you just have to walk with your legs together like a very proper lady.

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8/17 camp -> Lake Toktogul

Feeling free — smooth asphalt, wind in hair, lake swimming. Free at last!

P1020850some big uphills (but paved road!) in the mountains

P1020854descending to the vast Lake Toktogul. sweet downhill on sweet asphalt.

P1020860P1020858found camp on the shores of Lake Tortugol. Swimming!! And a local gave us a free watermelon! Pure bliss.

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8/18 Lake Toktogul -> Toktugul (town)

P1020863massive truck accident

P1020865sweet sweet pavement and scenic views of mountains and lake. bike touring doesn’t get better than this!

P1020870Toktogul town

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8/19 Toktugul -> camp after Ala-Bel pass

Up a HUGE pass. 2100m = 7000 ft elevation gain in one day!

P1020872breakfast of loaded honey and butter. i don’t think i’ve ever put that much butter on bread before.

P1020873Honey, fish, berries: lots of goody stands on the road. i also love how the locals can use coke bottles for almost everything.

P1020876some of the most beautiful horses i’ve ever seen

P1020874Kyrgyz country

P1020879P1020884Raspberries were being sold by the side of the road, but the problem was they were only being sold by the bucket. Since the buckets were huge and too much for us to consume, Marko and I kept riding to see if other stands would have smaller portions. Finally, one stand offered to scoop out some raspberries into a small plastic container. Little did we know, Marko and I would devour the small container within seconds. So then we decided: what the hell, GO BIG OR GO HOME. With that, we bought the rest of the bucket. 500 som ($10) for a whole bucket of raspberries–worth of gold! After we couldn’t finish it all, we filled our water bottles and pots with the rest of the raspberries.

P1020886P1020889lots of Kyrgyz yurts/containers on the way up.

P1020887a curious little Kyrgyz onlooker. too cute!

P1020890P1020894lunch in a Kyrgyz yurt on the way. more barbecue meat (shashlik)!

P1020896local yurts drying kurut–tart, dried yogurt pieces

P1020900P1020901the climb just went on…and on…and on…forever. beautiful countryside of Kyrgyz yurts, horses, herders and their animals

P1020902finally, reached the top at sunset! greeted by this boy who wanted me to take a photo of him. that happens a lot in Kyrgyzstan.

P1020909camp in the mountains, shortly after pass.

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8/20 camp -> quarry camp after Too-Ashuu tunnel
P1020911weee….downhill!
P1020912statue–Kyrgyz style
P1020916P1020920local yurts selling dairy products such as: kymyz (fermented mare’s milk and national drink of Kazakhstan); kuurdak (pieces of offal); kurut (tart dried yogurt pieces); kaymak (creamy butter)

P1020922the WALL between me and Bishkek–how I dream of pizzas and burgers and non-Central Asian food
P1020923P1020924more interesting converted containers. Panda says: how many photos can I take to procrastinate from climbing THE WALL? Marko says: Nothing to it, but to do it!
P1020925

P1020927a very dark, very dusty, very scary tunnel: last obstacle before Bishkek. I had heard from other cyclists that you weren’t allowed to bike this tunnel, but apparently it’s possible now. In the past, the tunnel had several incidents of people dying from carbon monoxide poisoning because of improper ventilation (if a car broke down and you were in the middle somewhere, you were screwed). Now there is a police officer who limits the number of cars that can go in at a time. Inside the road was filled with large potholes, unfinished asphalt, and other obstructions. But according to Marko, this was a “good” tunnel for Central Asia. Marko went through several tunnels in Tajikistan that were even worse (the Chinese had started building the tunnels there, but the projects ran out of money so the tunnels were left unfinished. Basically, those tunnels had a hole through the mountain, but not much else).
P1020930it’s all downhill from here!
P1020931last night of camping before Marko goes home to Slovenia. don’t get all sentimental now…

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8/21 quarry camp -> Bishkek
P1020933P1020934massive Chinese-built gas and power plant
P1020937Final push to Bishkek! With of course, ice cream and watermelon in between.

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8/22 – 8/27 Bishkek (capital of Kyrgyzstan)

Arriving in Bishkek at the hostel, I was greeted by a whole stack of bikes in the courtyard. Apparently this was the hostel where all the bike tourists were. Many cyclists were stranded in Bishkek because almost everyone was headed to China but the Chinese embassy stopped giving out visas here. Now they were all trying to make alternative plans. Lucky for me, I got my Chinese visa at home (good unexpected planning!)

My goal in Bishkek was to get a Kazakh visa. The paperwork was fairly easy, but I had to spend 5 days waiting for the visa. In the meantime, I met a lot of travelers at the hostel. One German guy (who was born in Kyrgyzstan) worked for a solar company also (for 8 years!) He was the only other solar person I’ve met on the trip.
P1020943many cyclists at the hostel in Bishkek (Nomad’s Home)
P1020944Kyrgyz plov
P1020945All along, I spoke Russian with random words because I just had a dictionary. At the hostel, Rob (English cyclist) gave me a Russian grammar book! Now I can actualy make sentences–so excited! (Except after 3 days of reading the book, I realized that Russian grammar doesn’t make a lot of sense)
P1020946Dungan (Chinese Muslim) cuisine–ashlanfu–cold spicy noodle soup, very YUM
P1020947Dungan cuisine–ganfan–rice with meat and veggies, also very YUM
P1020952strolling around Bishkek…
P1020953…with bubble tea!

 

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