As the techno-pop blares from this internet cafe, and i have to hold the 'e' for a full second for it to register, horns blast on the street, shashlyk- meat on a skewer roasts over coals, bowl after bowl of chay (tea) is drunk, and every variety of meat filled pastries is fried, i am overwhelmed with where to begin. It has been a long time since i have really travelled, and there are so many emotions that go on each day. There is the beauty of travel, of seeing new and incredible places, meeting generous and kind people, experiencing different cultures, riding bikes in some of the most outstanding places i have ever been. At the same time there is almost being hit by cars because the people here all seemed to have learned to drive by playing Pole Position, drinking bowlfuls of fermented mares milk that tastes like drinking an entire horse, eating pepto bismal all day long because there are demons inside, having every child scream hello at the top of their lungs, and carrying rocks in handlebar bags to defend against chasing dogs.
SABAKA! This is 'dog' in Russian. It is one of the few words I really know, that i don't translate. Chay, 'tea', is another, and both have become obsessions since being here. The latter being what i really want, and the other that which i loathe. Anyone who has ever biked knows about dogs. There is just something about bikes that dogs hate. I have heard tricks, like spraying water from a water bottle, and throwing rocks, but most of the time it's really hard to do anything, especially when going downhill, so I have just tried to outrun them. It seems that most people here have dogs, and it seemed that at least once a day we would be charged. Not just barked at, but seriously close, dogs at the legs, adrenaline pumping charged.
I began to get really obsessed. I would daydream while riding about being attacked, about defending myself, about whether beating the dogs head in would be more effective or perhaps stabbing would be better. I decided to buy a knife i could strap on my leg, so that when the dog was latched on I could stab it. My senses would heighten at the approach of every building, looking and listening for any sign of SABAKA.
It really started to wear on me, but I didn't know what to do. In the town where i was going to buy my knife, we happened to run into a Kiwi couple, who enlightened us. Unfortunately, the guy was in the process of getting rabies shots because he had been bit, but they told us to stop and hold our ground. Instead of trying to outrun the dogs, which just gets them more fired up, stop, face them, and pretend to throw a rock, or throw it. Well, anything was worth a try, so the next dog we did it. Stopped, and the dog went from full sprint to dead stop. Its worked everytime! I think i've only thrown a couple of rocks. I also started noticing the way dogs are treated here, and they are pretty much pelted with rocks all day by their owners. Thank God- conquered sabaka!
In my mind, the trip so far has been divided in two parts. The cold, mountain part, and the hot, valley part. For the first couple weeks, we only had maybe 3 days without threatening skies, or rain. We went to Issyk Kol, the second largest alpine lake in the world. The water was almost as beautiful and clear as Tahoe, and I was determined to have a beach day, even though it was mostly windy and rainy. Supposedly it was like Cancun up the road, but our beach just had donkeys and a delicious tandoori oven bread shop!
We then headed to Song Kol. Tyler wrote a little about the climb to get there. Two days before we got there, it snowed, and the day we left, there were flurries. But on the day we arrived it was one of those absolutely perfect, clear, no humidity, color popping days. When we reached the top of the pass, at 10,000ft, navigating through snowmelt, horses, cows, and sheep, one of the shepherds came over on his horse. He was an older man, asked us the time and then offered us some sort of yogurt drink. It was tasty, and after offering us the whole bottle of it, he motioned for me to get on his horse! It was awesome to be on his beautiful horse in this amazing place, where it just seems to belong. As we rode down the pass in the late afternoon light, it was hard to get anywhere because it was so incredible! It is like Montana/Vermont/Switzerland- so green and lush, with big open skies, towering white capped peaks in the distance, and flowers that make fields of red and purple. Then, beyond the landscape, there are herds of sheep and horses, with no fences, and white yurts scattered about. It is so idyllic looking, its ridiculous. Shangri-La, truly.
After a few more passes, and yurt filled green landscapes, we began descending toward the Fergana Valley. Suddenly, there were watermelons, apricots, peaches, and tomatoes for sale along the roads! What a treat after bread, noodles, animal fat, and every assortment of dairy product imaginable. These lower elevations also meant heat. I do not love the heat, but I accept that it is involved while biking in Central Asia. Yet, it was now hot. I was sweating while at camp at 7 in the morning. This does not bode well for climbing and riding in treeless, dry areas. I felt like I was in New Mexico. By 2 o'clock it felt like riding in an oven. Even going downhill provided no relief. It jut moved the hot air around. I began to think it was not a good idea to keep riding. We ended up huddled under the shade of one bush on the side of the highway for almost 3 hours, as we waited out the heat to keep riding. We then began waking up at 5 AM, to ride early, and then taking a break in the heat of the day.
To recap- we've biked 1457 km. It's been 28 days since we left California. We've had 2 flats. We've drunk countless cups of tea and answered the question "where are you from?" countless times. Kyrgyzstan has been amazing and i have my fingers crossed that the rest of our trip can live up to this auspicious beginning.
Missing everyone and sending lots of love, adrianne and tyler