Last night before he left, Kas mentioned that he was headed out to a nice hiking area (though not to go hiking himself) called Jeti Oguz and that we could have a lift with him if we wanted. Fortunately we hadn’t booked our flights to Turkey yet, so our time in Kyrgyzstan was still quite fluid. It seemed like a nice invitation, so we took him up on his offer. He dropped us at the start of a trail to a waterfall and left us with a topographical map, a mobile phone and some simple trail instructions – I thought that would be enough.
The first hour of the hike was simply following a beautiful river upstream. At first we were surrounded by beautiful big pine trees in a tight valley, but after passing several bends (and crossing several log bridges) we were treated with fabulous views of some distant snowy peaks. I’m neither equipped nor experienced, but someday I would love to climb some mountains like these.
Late May is still quite early for tourists, so many of the yurt camps that we passed had only begun to set up camp. A few of the yurts had been set up, but we could see many stands and platforms of where more would be built in time. Most of these camps had a small herd of horses, presumably for us lazy tourists to explore the area on. I did love their method of securing the horses – there was a simple rope tied between their front legs (and some times a rear one, too) that worked much in the way a park brake would work on a car. At first it seemed cruel seeing these horses hobble around, but at least they were free to move around and eat, rather than being tethered to a rope in a single location all the time.
These alpine meadows that the camps were being set up on were beautiful. It was amazing seeing so much lush grass and trees growing, especially after all the white from our time in Japan, and the dry and barren parts of southern Mongolia. The peaks weren’t high (for Kyrgyzstan standards), but they were still up to 4,000m, and rocky and snow capped. It was great every 15 minutes when we would take a break and just drink in these views. It felt incredibly exotic for two of us (but, maybe less so for people from Switzerland).
We continued following the dirt road that was the trail. However, after starting to climb up into one of the valleys, it suddenly stopped at one of the yurt camps. I tried asking some ofo the people in the camp how to get to the waterfall, or where we were on the map, but it was useless – they didn’t understand what I wanted, I didn’t understand what they were saying, and they didn’t know where we were on the map. So, I tried my best to read the contours of the map and work out where we were in respect to the terrain that I could see around us. As far as I could tell, we were one valley too far south, and had been following the wrong river for a km or two. Rather than going back down that km or two, I decided to traverse across the hill into the next valley and pick up the trail when we walked over it.
But, I guess I need to learn more about how to read maps, because we traversed too far, and didn’t see the trail. We had scrambled up and down some steep and loose hills along uncut trails. We were pushing through the undergrowth and being scratched by it. I had thought about trying again to cut our own trail towards where I thought the real trail should be, but luckily Risa talked me out of it.
We were never at risk of getting lost, as the weather was clear, and we could quite easily see where we came from. However! (there is always a however/but in our adventures), there were only a few bridges across the river – and we needed to be on the other side. So, when we finally made it back to the river, we had three choices, though only two were realistic – travel downstream or upstream to the next bridge, or attempt to cross the river on foot. We crossed the river four times on the way up, so I knew that eventually we would come to another bridge if we headed downstream. Judging by the map, it didn’t look far from where we were, so we headed downstream. Again, there was no trail, so we were cutting a path as we went, through scratchy shrubs, boggy swamps and other fun obstacles. We eventually got to a point that it was impossible for us to safely continue from, and again we were left with three options – climb a small cliff and traverse along a rock face 10m the river, attempt to cross the river on foot, or return back to where we had come from. Crazily, we actually had a look at the two first options, which included me attempting to climb that cliff (very loose and dangerous) as well as wading out as deep as my shorts into the (very) fast flowing river. As much as it pained us to do so, we realised that the only realistic option is to return uphill to where we came from, and join the path from there. While this was going on, Risa was getting more and more furious. She doesn’t really enjoy hiking, so, having to make our path through the undergrowth (and then back again) was not her idea of a fun day. I didn’t blame her – I wasn’t enjoying it either!
But, to be honest, it didn’t actually take us that long to get back onto the trail that we started from. Frustratingly, we came across the trail that we were meant to follow to get to the waterfall. We were expecting a trail like the one we had been walking on alongside the river (a gravel road), however it was nothing more than a feint single track. The trail starts behind a yurt camp, just as you cross the last bridge – in case any one else finds themselves looking for it.
Walking back down the road, and crossing the bridges improved Risa’s mood a little. We weren’t far from the end of the trail when we walked past a group of middle-aged Kyrgyzstani people having a grand looking picnic. They waved us over to join them. We said no a few times, and then thinking that it could be fun we sat down with them. They had all sorts of food laid out, and even though I wasn’t all that hungry (we’d been snacking) I did my best to eat everything that was offered to me.
… then came the vodka! We must have had six shots with them before we left. I can’t speak Russian, but Risa knows a few words. Fortunately, some of them spoke broken English – enough for us to communicate – though the drinking certainly helped. We probably would have been with them for longer, but the main person we were talking with, Eric, told us that after he drinks, he sleeps. So, he lay down and went to sleep, which was a good cue for us to continue our (now semi inebriated) walk.
Risa broke her glasses during the picnic. She was also quite boozed from all the vodka, so was in a very good mood, which was nice after the unhappiness while we were hiking.
Passed back past the Seven Bulls (which were now in the shadow), and the Broken Heart. It was a shame, because when we drove past this morning, they were in full sunlight and were a deep red.
By the Broken Heart (a large red rock split in half, resembling a lover’s broken heart) there were some kids playing. After waving and saying hello, like we did to everyone we saw, they chased after us with a small hawk. I couldn’t say no for 20s (40c). It mustn’t have been enough money though, as they didn’t let RIsa hold it… just posed for the photo with us. Risa was more interested in a photo with the kids anyway.
We kept walking towards the main road back to Karakol, waiting for Kas to pick us up again. He gave us a phone to call him when we were ready, but we didn’t seem to be able to call him with it. The alcohol was wearing off and Risa and I were getting quite tired, so we stopped every now and then to absorb the beautiful view back up the valley.
Walking a little further, we waved at some men collecting honey (popular souvenir for Russian tourists I’m told). They called us over and got Risa to help pull some of the honeycomb from the hives. They gave us a bowl (literally an actual full bowl) of their amazing fresh honey. It wasn’t clear like the honey we usually buy from a supermarket, it was quite milky in colour and the taste was so smooth and creamy. While they were playing with all these bees, Risa was stung on the top of her head. Luckily she didn’t go in to shock, so I guess she’s not allergic…
We waited a little longer for Kas to pick us up, but it was nearly 7PM and he didn’t show, so we decided to hitch hike as far as the main road, where we would aim to catch a minibus back in to town. Hitch hiking is safe/common here. We tried our luck on the next vehicle that came our way and two cars stopped for us. The second car said that the first car was too dangerous, so we jumped in the back of the second car (a little green ute) and took off down the road (at bicycle pace). It was random, spontaneous and super good fun. About 5 minutes later, the first car broke down so we stopped to help. By some amazing chance, as we were stopped on the side of the road we saw Kas driving towards us and flagged him down and jumped into the car with him. I didn’t really know what we were going to do if we didn’t find him, as I didn’t have much of an idea of where our guest house was.
He dropped us back at the Riverside Guesthouse, we ate with them, then passed out. Exhausted and a little hungover.