During the night, my stomach started to churn and I had to make a dash for the bathroom. It wasn’t a long walk, but with it snowing, any walk outdoors was too long. The one bonus, because it was a basic toilet with just a hole in the floor, there was no contact between naked flesh and a sub-zero toilet seat.
My upset stomach caused me to wake several times during the night, and each time the snow outside was getting deeper. When I finally went outside after the sun had risen, I was shocked to see such a perfect landscape before me. There was a fresh blanket of snow, and amazing clear skies. I’ve spent plenty of time in the snow, but this was like nothing I’d ever seen before – wide open plains and rugged mountains all covered in a shade of white, matched a brilliant blue sky. It’s still hard to believe that today is the third of June…
Going back inside the yurt we could see just how many holes there were in the insulation. It was water tight thanks to a thin layer of plastic, but the walls were quite thin – though thicker than a regular tent would be. It was freezing inside, so I tried to get a fire started. There was still the faintest glow on some of the dung, but it didn’t matter how hard I tried to get it to light, the only thing I achieved was a head spin and a smoky tent.
We had two choices about when we would be picked up, either after breakfast, or later in the afternoon. It was tempting to stay a little later, but there wasn’t any great desire to do any more horse riding, so we decided to leave early. We ate (among other things, a semolina-like porridge), said good-bye to the other tourists at the camp and waited for our driver to pick us up.
The 10AM pickup time came and went. Our guides had already started the return journey to return the horses from in Tygart, so we were somewhat stuck. While we were waiting, we watched a baby donkey attempt to take its first steps, but it was so weak that would flop around on the ground every time it tried to feed from its mother. We couldn’t speak with the farmer, but he made a gesture of running a finger from one side of his neck to the other as though it wouldn’t last much longer. We stood around hoping that this poor little foal would stand, but it didn’t. We did hear from friends who spent another night at the camp that the foal did eventually stand, so it may have survived after all.
At 11:30, an hour-and-a-half later than organised, our driver still hadn’t shown. We thought there may have been some miscommunication yesterday, so we wanted to contact CBT to find out what was going on. A man at the camp understood my gesturing and walked out onto a small mound 100m south of the camp, held his old Nokia skyward searching for signal, and made a call. CBT couldn’t get in contact with the driver, which probably meant that he was on his way and was in an area without mobile coverage – it’s amazing that there is even coverage out here where we are! It was one of those scenes that I wish I had of been quicker with my camera.
And with not much else we could do, we sat and waited, and waited, and waited. The other tourists who were staying at the camp went out on horse riding tours. If we had known how long we would have to wait, we probably could have organised to do something like that, too. But, our driver could turn up at any minute. We were a little concerned that there had been a problem, especially since another couple were supposed to be picked up at 10AM, too. All of that waiting in the sunshine actually left me quite sunburnt – I should know better than spending time in the sun and snow.
The driver finally arrived at 1PM, just as the guys were coming back from their horse riding. It turned out that all the snow we’d hade here last night was a whole lot more on top of the pass (3500m). The cars weren’t set up for this sort of driving, and neither are the roads, which ordinarily wouldn’t be a problem, since it’s not supposed to be snowing in June.
We barely drove 1km before we came across the driver (and car) who was picking up the other Dutch couple. We tried pushing, but the car didn’t move and I ended up falling in the mud (on my sore leg from the horse kick yesterday). This guy was incredibly stuck, but thankfully they realised it. They got out jacks and started lifting a corner at a time and laying a path of stones beneath the wheels. The car was resting on the chassis, and really there wasn’t a lot we could do by hand. Our driver eventually pulled out an old frayed 2m piece of braided steel cable and tied (yes, tied) the bogged car to ours. I stood well away from any potential danger and joined in with the cheers of victory when our little Audi pulled the white wagon free. The drivers cleaned themselves up in the river that was cause of all the muddiness and we parted ways.
Eventually the muddy path joined a more suitable gravel road and it was relatively smooth sailing from here. We even passed a few cyclists who were descending down towards the lake – and I was incredibly jealous, I would gladly swap horse riding for mountain biking.
Once we got to the top of the pass (3500m), we could see just how hard it must have been earlier this morning. There are no markers indicating the edge of the road, and there were wheel tracks of cars that had strayed from the road and slipped off the edge of the dirt road and into deep snow on the shoulder. There was a clear set of wheel tracks up there now, so going home wasn’t a problem. It was surprising that there weren’t any markers showing where the edge of the road was, but I guess that people don’t usually come up here when it is snowing, and the late snow this year was unusual.
The view on the way up was amazing, but the view on the way down was truly jaw dropping – I can’t think of a better adjective. Not even the narrow dirt road with the sheer drop on the right-hand side stopped me from hanging outside of the car with my camera in my hands.
It took us another 2.5-hours to get back to Kochkor, passing through a few small and very basic locales along the way. We were now much lower, and temperatures were much warmer, but the snow capped peaks still loomed.
Risa did a quick bit of souvenir shopping from Fatima’s souvenir shop, which sold (mostly) locally made souvenirs. They’d make great decorations if we had a house, but since we’re essentially nomads, too, we didn’t buy much. The rugs in particular were beautiful.
Leaving Kochkor we were now having the same problems we had coming – there were no more buses. So, with little other choice, we jumped into a minivan taxi, which is essentially a mini private bus in all but name. They charge per seat, and they wait around until all the seats have been sold. Unless of course you purchase the rest of the seats. It was a bit of a wait, with several passengers jumping in the van, only to jump back out a minute or two later (and into other vans). It was a little harder for us with all our luggage in the back, so we just sat and hung tight, hoping that it wouldn’t be too late before we were on our way. The drivers certainly work hard trying to recruit passengers, spruiking their route. Of course, we eventually filled the van and were finally on our way back to Bishkek.
We stopped twice for petrol, and on the second time the collection hat come out, so we dug deep and paid our 600s ($12).
The highway was mostly nice and smooth. I mused that there was no benefit in painting the lines on the highway, as it was a waste of money since lanes are so conceptual in this country. I also thought that our driver would stand to make so much more profit if he didn’t drive so aggressively. Heck, we even had a quick stop by the police. Our diver didn’t seem that upset about it, and we really had no clue what it was about, as he came jogging back to the car with a smile thirty-seconds later…
At one point we were overtaken by a BMW M5 travelling at considerable speed. In response, our driver (in his Honda Odyssey minivan) took off after him, weaving through traffic. The other car slowed right down, but was still weaving through all ‘lanes’. Both drivers were busy with their phones. It was modestly concerning, though we must have been the only who felt that way as no one else was wearing a seatbelt…
We had hoped to make it back early enough to go for dinner with our friends in Bishkek, but it was already after 7:30PM by the time we arrived back at our hotel – and we still had to wash the three days of horse riding off us before we were fit to be company for others. Even though we had to wake up at 4AM to catch our flight to Turkey tomorrow morning, we went out for dinner and some drinks with some friends (who are JICA volunteers here in Bishkek). The receptionist at our hotel (Hostel Nomad) told us that Buddha-Bar was one of the fanciest places in Bishkek – it probably wasn’t. It was relaxed, and there were loads of water pipes around, but our Bishkek friends also laughed at the suggestion (that it was the fanciest place in town).
We didn’t get back to the hotel until after midnight, which would give us less than four hours rest before flying out. Looking forward to exploring Istanbul in a sleep deprived weary state.