Translated by: Pál Capewell
And yes, we arrived.... Balazs and I crossed the border near Shamaldi-Say around eight in the evening. We began to look for a place to stay right away as it was rather dark already. Understandably, it’s much more difficult to look for a place to set up a tent or to be allowed into someone’s house for a night during dark hours. Unfortunately our assumption proved right, it was very difficult to find a place, especially after two places that looked promising didn’t work out. We spotted a little restaurant where the mood seemed to be quite pleasant - tables were surrounded by both youngsters and elderly, people were laughing, dancing outside to Kyrgyz music. Seeing the good mood, we ventured a try with the waiters, asking them if it’d be okay to sleep on their terrace, to which they kindly agreed to. After we were done setting up, we were offered Kyrgyz saslik and local beer. We danced our way into Kyrgyzstan!
The next day Balazs and I set off for the mountains. A rotation of easier, harder days followed, up and down, up and down, up and down, all the way ‘till Bishkek. We saw some breathtaking scenery with bountiful natural sights. The challenging nature of the trip really wasn’t the negative aspect of it all, but the local drivers. They drove like maniacs, without the slightest concern for us and our safety. One thing was for sure: busy roads must be avoided at all costs and we must leave the road at the first chance we get. Till then, we figured we will attach our flags to the side of our bags to attract attention and create some sort of perceived boundary between us and the local drivers. There were cases when they barely made it past us they came so close, and some other times they made a sport out of catching/touching/ripping off our flags. Their sense of humor is not for me to understand.
One night we had the fortune of staying at a ran-down “hotel” which reminded us of our Olamilq memories. Wasn’t pretty. Till this day we can’t wrap our minds around the mystery that happened that night. The guy we shared our room with got up in the middle of the night, turned on all the lights and set up the tables, chairs outside. Then he left. Naturally, Balazs and I woke up, assuming they will be dining at this ungodly hour due to Ramadan. But no, nobody returned, nobody ate a bite, and nothing happened really. We tried to go back to sleep, I personally couldn’t wait for it to be morning. The place gave me the creeps. It was filthy as hell, the wallpaper was melting off under a thick layer of mold, and the room was filled with bugs and mosquitos.... After an hour or so we got bored of waiting and switched off the lights. A little later our buddy returned, and like nothing happened, went back to sleep. At six we woke up with massive bags under our eyes, collected our stuff and got the hell out of there.
By the time we got to Toktogul Lake, Balazs and I had an exhausting day behind us. We wanted to set up our tent somewhere peaceful so we headed for the campsite to ask around for some decent places. After the initial hellos, we quickly became friends with the Russian family camping there. They were very kind and sweet people, so we decided to set up the tent next to them for the next couple of days. It felt good to finally rest a bit and be around people.
You learn something new every day: in the 60s and 70s, a lot of Russian citizens were distributed among the Soviet Union states. These people settled down in their designated countries and usually married other Russians. A lot of Russians were born in Kyrgyzstan, who studied in Russian schools and had very limited contact with locals. This generation is in their 40s, 50s now, and have children of their own. The theme for them is the same: Russian school, Russian life-partner... Speaking Kyrgyz is not trendy even among the Kyrgyz people so you mostly hear Russian downtown. Kyrgyz people prefer to use Russian even among themselves, which we found rather strange.
After our two day rest at the Toktogul lakeside, we got back on our bikes again. We slowly reached the mountainous part, ascending higher and higher. The roadside cafes and and shops were changed to cottages. Most families keeping animals move to the mountains from spring till late autumn, set up their cottage and bring their animals over. Horses and cows are out in the fields the whole day, munching away in peace, and people process the milk into all sorts of produces and sell them by the road. Next to the cottages, these locals already have quite sophisticated machinery in their tents, for example a mixer that separates milk and cream . They make cottage cheese, kumis and kurut (or kashk).
Families sleep and eat in their cottages. They don’t have electricity but have cool jeeps parked outside. It was nice seeing the strange contrast.
The serpentine kept going upwards, and by the fourth day we were at the Ala Bel Pass, the highest location of our trip thus far.
After the well-deserved easy roll downward, we went for camping in the wild, by the Suusamyr Lake. To our surprise, it had quite the traffic! People passed every now and then, came to take a quick bath, shaved, washed a bit... Then by dark we were left alone.
In our heads, we were already planning the day ahead, we studied the maps in the tent and contemplated how many more days we need to get to Bishkek.
The chocolate pudding breakfast was far from satisfactory, but nevertheless off we went towards Too Ashuu Pass. To be honest it’s not a real pass, since they built a tunnel at the near the top of the mountain so one just has to get as high as the tunnel. Balazs and I were ascending for four hours on the serpentine that had a 12% incline. Fortunately we were both in good condition and mood, which is more than what we can say for our time at Ala Bel Pass.
The tunnel awaited us at the top of the mountain, with thick black smog pouring out of it - contrary to the positive word of mouth it has going on. The construction workers advised us against going in with our bikes. After thirty long minutes of waiting in the freezing cold, a truck finally stopped to take us through. Bags, tents, whatnots all went on top of the paprika cargo at the back, and we got comfy next to the drivers. This is how Balazs and I crossed the 3km long “tunnel”. On the way it became clear that attempting to cross on bikes would have been a futile mission; the smog was so dense that visibility was extremely low, even the lights were barely visible, and the ground had plenty of ankle deep holes. We would have fainted after no more than 500m. Or less. Upon arriving at the other side, milky fog welcomed us. On this side of the mountain the temperature was so low that we had to put on our thickest clothes and cover our faces. Being able to see nothing, it was a scary ride going downwards, but soon enough we got out of the clouds. The path led us by the Alba, Turuk and Kara-Balta Rivers. By the time it got dark, luckily we got out of the valley. Our camp spot was next to a cottage by the route to Sosnovka. Balazs and I got into our sleeping bags exhausted, but overjoyed. Two days, two passes. Well, we did it!