Kyrgyzstan has been amazing. We have been learning to expect the unexpected.
There have been some incredible days on the bikes and some very challenging days as well.
Part of the challenge is the topography. Kyrgyzstan is roughly the size of South Dakota, however there is quite a bit more relief here, so if it were flattened it would cover many South Dakotas. The distances we have been travelling may seem short to some of you, but when one considers that those 100 km may have been covered on dirt roads of every condition imaginable, and on slopes of 12 percent that last for 10 km while carrying food for a few days, and everything else needed for camping in potentially cold places, it makes the days more tiring than the numbers suggest.
When we made the climb up to Song Kol from the direction of Kochkor, we were fortunate to have a beautiful sunny day with pleasant temperatures. Which was good, because we climbed slightly uphill for most of the morning before getting to the real climb before noon. We then rode our bikes very slowly towards the pass which led to the lake. Including the break for lunch which was minutes long, not hours, our time riding up the 10km long steeper bit was just about three hours. At one point, while still pedaling and making apparently geologic progress towards the pass, the computer mounted to the front wheel indicated our forward speed was none. "I'm going zero!"
The mountains which make the riding challenging also make it unbelievably rewarding. Some of the most spectacular scenery either of us have ever seen has been seen in this short month in Kyrgyzstan. The pass described above was rewarding for the view with which we were greeted at the top, and also because the pass had a top. Others we have ridden since then have been a little bit soul sucking for their folds. Well certainly just around this next corner...no...just up here....what the....okay now for real...the road dips and follows a contour and somehow there is another shoulder of the mountain which must be rounded and climbed before the long-sought descent can begin. -- But some of the descents have been pretty nice, also lasting for all of a morning and a good bit of the afternoon.
Along with the topography, talking has presented a bit of a challenge. Our Russian has improved greatly since our arrival. It would have been nearly impossible for that not to be true given the extent of our Russian knowledge before arrival. And our Kyrgyz, astronomical improvements. We now know something approaching ten words. This makes camping much easier than during the first days outside of Bishkek. Those of you who have asked someone who speaks a language other than one with which you can communicate if you can camp on their land can appreciate the difficulty this presents. Some of our early attempts included heavy use of the dictionary and even greater gesticulating than normal.
"We...tent." pointing to our trailers indicating that there is a tent hiding somewhere inside the yellow BOB trailer bags.
This sentence being met by some sort of acknowledgement that the listener understands was then followed by the much more challenging sentence, "We...tent?" With lots of finger pointing between us to be sure the proper "we" was understood, then two hands joined at chest height in front of us then separated and sloping towards the ground to indicate the rough roofline of our tent, and pointing at the ground in front of us, or just over there in that field and very importantly raising our eyebrows enough to indicate that the second sentence is very different than the first and is in fact a question asking permission, and not a statement about our possessions.
Somehow, and as testament to the kindness of most of the Kyrgyz people we were able to communicate in this manner. We have had some wonderful conversations during which no individual word was understood, but a huge amount of information was communicated. It is amazing what can be understood when one has the desire to really listen to what another is trying to say.
One evening when we had set up our camp in a beautiful spot next to a little river in the hills just above the major cross-country highway, a local shepherd stopped by to see what we were doing. His summer home in the hills with his herds was a tent not too far from our own. Satisfied with a very brief exchange that we were okay, he came back later with the perfect gift of half a watermelon. In the morning, he came back and we had some very interesting conversations. We were curious how many sheep he had.
"You, house here?"
"Just over there in that tent."
"No, the snow is too deep for the horses."
-Good- seeming an odd response to this answer, no words, but head nodding to indicate understanding.
"You, winter house where?"
More recently we were on our way to Arslanbob, where the world's largest walnut forest hides in the shadows of some magnificent alpine scenery. For those of you interested, the skiing is probably phenomenal (well pretty much all over the country it looks pretty spectacular, but in Arslanbob, there are some folks trying to get the backcountry yurt skiing going- Really hope it works out). Hyett described skiing through widely spaced walnut trees and made it sound pretty magical.
We had not quite made it to Arslanbob, as it had been another convection oven day with many kilometers covered. We were riding slowly uphill on a road that was not presenting many camping opportunities, because there were houses everywhere. Two women and a small boy sat on a little bench in front of their fence near the road. One appeared to be the mother, the other the grandmother. They were very pleased when we greeted them in the local language and smiled warmly. After a brief exchange, we decided to turn around and ask them, "Hello, excuse me, we have a tent. May we tent there?"
Well, as has been the case more than once, it did not work out as we expected. We were told we could set up the tent, but since we were having such a happy time talking to them, and they seemed to be having such a good time talking to us, they changed their minds. "Put the tent away, you should stay in our house."
It is very difficult to capture just how wonderful our hosts were on that evening. The family is ethnically Uzbek, but they have been living in that part of the world for many generations. (We met someone else who represented the 28th generation of his Uzbek family living there.) long before the country of Kyrgyzstan was created. We had tea, and bread and something very similar to dulce de leche, a delicious dinner, a wash in the river, washed some clothes, and had a great time talking long into the evening. Some sad stories were told of violence three years ago during which Kyrgyz and Uzbeks were fighting. The very sweet four year old boy who was keeping everyone entertained by wearing my glasses and waving the flags from our trailers around was one year old at the time. The family told us how they had hidden in the hills trying to keep him from crying so that they would not all be killed. -and most of this was told in Uzbek with a little bit of Russian, but it was very clear that this was the story. Most of the evening was lighter and there was a great deal of laughter. It was decided that we would spread the word in America that there is an awesome family on the way to Arslanbob where everyone must stop to visit.-(Those of you planning your trip, we can offer more details later.) We were instructed to take pictures of ourselves by the big waterfall further up the road, and after we spent the night near the walnut trees, we had to stop by their house in the morning and share the pictures. We did. And it was once again a delight to be near such warm and welcoming people.
Our time in Kyrgyzstan will soon be up as we now turn to the north and head toward Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia. It will not soon be forgotten.
Thank you for your continued thoughts and prayers.
Tyler and Adrianne (aka Tylor and Adreeann)