September 16, 2009


7.6 - 7. 15

Out of the green rolling hills and into the real mountains....Tajikistan here I come. The Pamir Highway also known as the Roof of the World attracts cyclists from around the world with it's seemingly untouched and uninhabited landscape, high altitude mountain lakes, breath taking views of surrounding mountains and the charming and hospitable Pamiri people. The Pamir Highway, running from Osh to Dushanbe, is the second highest international road in the world, second to the Karakoram Highway connecting China and Pakistan.

Once again, the Kyrgyz immigration was not much more than a few trailers and a gate in the mountains. 'No drugs or weapons?" - Kyrgyz immigration/customs, this was a ridiculous question, it would be the equivalent of smuggling hash into Amsterdam. I read in the 'Lonely Looser' (my 52 yr old German friend termed the popular travel guide) that 50% of the Tajik economy was thought to be somehow involved with the opium/heroin drug trade from their Afghan neighbors. 50% ! So I kind of looked at the customs officer with a 'seriously?' look and I was stamped out of Kyrgyzstan..then came my first introduction to the roads of Tajikistan. It was tortuous, the road was super steep and sandy, the going was extremely slow and I was beginning to wonder if I would make it 20 km to the Tajik immigration. Luckily at some point, I topped out on a mountain pass and cruised the remaining distance downhill to immigration. When I arrived at the gate the guard, a kid who couldn't have been over 18 holding an AK 47, took a quick look at me and turned his head away from me. I passed a Swiss cyclist a few hours earlier who said that the Tajik border guards demanded money from him or else they would pull everything from his bags in search for drugs; corruption runs deep here. The Swiss guy also gave me a map of the Pamir's in exchange for some Kyrgyz som. So I sat at the Tajik border for some 15 minutes waiting for this guard to acknowledge my presence, I started to go under the gate until I realized he was pointing his AK 47 at me. I retracted my steps...he walked over and demanded I give him cigarettes, dingy or vodka. I reached in my bag and handed him my passport, he ended up folding in the end and opening the gate but a firm stance and a 30 minute wait was required.

So I'm in Tajikistan, one of the poorest of the ex-Soviet countries. The Lonely Looser says that their GDP is less than a Hollywood movie and I also read in a Time article that 50% of Tajik's economy is based on remittances, immigrant workers sending money back to the country. So needless to say, Tajikistan doesn't exactly have a lot of money to spare.

So I started cycling through the Eastern Pamirs, which was extremely dry, deserty and remote. There were no signs of life, except for one village located in the middle of nowhere that I passed on the way to Karakul Lake. Maybe 1 or 2 cars would pass me each day along with a handful of motorcyclists and the feeling of remoteness and utter detachment from life was liberating. I pitched my tent on the roof of the world, playing Bob Dylan on my IPOD speakers, cooking spaghetti, all without encountering a was a beautiful experience.

So I cycled to Kara-Kul Lake, a beautiful crater lake at 13,000 ft. The majority of people from the Tajik border to this point were Kyrgyz people trapped by the crazy borders established from the Soviet madness, so I could still speak some elementary Kyrgyz with most of the people. I ended up spending the night in a yurt with a local family. The family had nothing more than shear chai (bitter milk tea) and naan (bread) to eat, which I later came to find out that most Pamiri people somehow live on nothing but bread, butter, milk and tea. I wrote in my journal later that night, 'Man cannot live on bread alone.....unless your Tajik'. Seriously, that is all they exist on.....and they don't look extremely malnourished. However I've been cycling some 8 hours and my body was beginning to eat itself from the inside, so I was desperate to get something a little more substantial in my body. So I had to escape the family for a few hours and cook a big pot of spaghetti to calm my growling stomach, I felt selfish.

Karakul Lake

The Kyrgyz family that I stayed with at Karakul Lake

The next day I climbed over the largest pass on the Pamir highway, 4600 m (15,090 ft), and breezed down the backside of the pass into an even more desolate landscape. I arrived in the first real 'town', Murghab, the next afternoon and quickly realized that there was nothing in this crap town for me save some snicker bars from 2005 and some Russian pasta. I hit the road after a quick food resupply, an exchange of money and a quick meal of shishlek (minced meat on a stick) and samsa (oven baked mutton pastries, basically the same as indians samosas). I was desperate for a rest day as I had been cycling strong for almost 14 days over some steep and terrible roads and my body was begging for a break. So I cycled about 20 km outside of town and found a beautiful campsite alongside a meandering stream (once again in the middle of nowhere). I immediately got naked and submerged myself into this frigid stream, my first cleaning in almost 2 weeks. Once again it was just me and Dylan, singing songs and smiling. No cars, no people, no animals, just me and the mountains. I took the rest of the afternoon to wash clothes, read, relax and soak in the beauty of this barren landscape.

Just me and Bob

So I awoke refreshed with some clean clothes and started to cycle towards Alichur. That must have been the cue for the headwind because it blew and blew and blew until I was sick, tired and burnt from the wind. I was only able to cycle some 80 brutal km per day and when I finally reached Alichur, my body was glowing red and I felt like I had been skiing all day, I slept for some 12 hours that night and most of my dreams involved me floating or flying around....I was beat.

Windy times call for desperate measures

I then began to cycle towards the Wakhan Corridor, an extremely isolated region on the southern border of Tajikistan separated from Afghanistan only by a river. I cycled for 2 days in the middle of absolutely nowhere, turning away from the main Pamir Highway, crossing the Kargush Pass and dropping into the Wakhan Corridor. This was possible the highlight of my Tajikistan travels....the first views of the Hindu Kush mountain range came into view and stole my breath. I was once again in the middle of nowhere, with maybe 2 cars passing me each day. I pitched my tent in yet another picture perfect location.

The next morning I cycled the remaining high and remote stretch before dropping into the Wakhan Valley, at this point the terrain drastically changed from uninhabited dry, crunchy, sandy, remote, prickly landscape to inhabited, irrigated, green, lush, beautiful, full of trees landscape. After about 25 switchbacks, I dropped directly into the first village, Langar. There was some sort of Muslim holiday and subsequent celebration going on and I was waved into a large feast and party full of Karaoke and dancing.

Party in Langar

After a few plates of pilof and chai, I thanked my kind hosts and jumped back on my bicycle. Soaking in the new lush oasis environment full of tall trees, green gardens and Afghanistan only about 100 feet across the river, I was mesmerized. When I arrived in Zong, only about 5 km from Langar, I was easily lured off my bike by a group of kids playing soccer on one of the most beautiful soccer pitches I've ever witnessed, even though it was only made of sand and trees. Tired of cycling and ready for some human interaction, I threw my bike down and joined in on the game. The players slowly increased in number as each kid returned home from their work in the fields and by 6 o'clock we had a proper game, keeper and all. It was an awesome experience and extremely well needed after such a long time cycling in the middle of nowhere. I pitched my tent on the far end of the soccer field and was invited inside by every family in the village, I stuck to my picturesque tent spot. This was my first day in the Wakhan Valley and what a first impression.

The kids that lured me off my bike (we had a danceoff shortly after)

Then it turned into a full sided match (Hindu Kush in background)

I continued along the Wakhan Valley for the next few days, jaw dropped and eyes indulging in the candy of mountains that surrounded the area. The Hindu Kush mountain range was gigantic, steep and powder coated. I slowed down my cycling and only logged some 40 km each day. The scenery was just so beautiful and almost every person that I passed invited me inside for chai. So in between stopping for pictures and drinking chai with all the locals, I only had a few hours to cycle each day. I was still learning Tajik words as I cycled so I was slowly able to communicate a little more each day.

Being alone, I was invited into many houses for chai, a place to sleep or sometimes just a break from the heat....some were wonderful and positive experiences, some absolute nightmares.

Example 1: One family invited me inside for chai and the father must have passed away only a few years earlier. The son, sporting two thumbs on one hand, poured me a cup of shear chai, half in my cup half on the carpet. The cat immediately started licking the moist carpet and the kid football punted the cat across the room. He then opened the closet (the closet!) and pulled out a carcass/skeleton of a sheep....'Ghoust!' he yelled, then with a butter knife in hand proceeded to whack and pull each bone/rib from the carcase, there was no meat remaining on this thing....when the plate was full of meatless bones, the mother took the plate into a back room and 5 minutes later returned with a plate of deep fried bones with a few flakes of skin . I was trying my best to be respectful and thankful for their kindness so I grabbed a bone and started to gnaw on the marrow. It was like something out of a Hitchcock film and the next day my stomach was torn to shreds.

My hospitable yet terrifying hosts (kid on left sporting two thumbs and licking my snickers wrapper)

Example 2: I was sitting on a bridge after filtering some water from a river when a girl and some kids approached me. The girl spoke good enough english and invited me inside for chai. I sat with the family of 6, showed them pictures of my travels, pointed out where I was from on a map of the world, even carried on a somewhat decent conversation about my profession, my travels, and my marital status. Once the father found out I was single and from America, he grabbed his two daughters, 16 and 18 yrs old, put one under each arm and sort of symbolically offered each of them to me for marriage, both of the girls were smiling in approval. I smiled, finished my chai and told them I'd think about it.....

My two brides: Sweet 16 on left, 18 on right

These Pamiri people mostly follow Islam but not they're not the traditional Muslim's that you would encounter elsewhere in the world. They are mostly Ismali's which means that they don't follow the traditional Islamic world of mosques and prayer 5 times a day. Instead of mosques, they have a community prayer building and a community leader who leads everyone in prayer. They are much less conservative in regards to dress and tradition, and as a result are much more appealing to me (and the rest of the world) than the super serious Islamic world that surrounds them. Prince Agha Khan is their giver of bread and consequently their religious leader.

From my initial marriage proposition with sweet 16 and 'legal in America' 18, it was like the entire Tajik community got on the telephone and informed the girls that a single American cyclist was on his way to their town. I had girls practically hanging on my bicycle, begging me to rescue them from a future life of housekeeping and take them to the promise land of greener pastures. It was an interesting predicament, I could only imagine my parents reaction if I arrived in Hartsfield Airport with a Tajik bride...and best of all, she speaks absolutely no English!

More to come but for now, you know the

Tajik kids with Afghan mountains in background

Tajik family in Zong

Transporting Grandma in the sidecar

Hindu Kush

My first glance at the Hindu Kush mountains

September 14, 2009

Kyrgyzstan, the infinite frontier of grass

6.25 - 7.6

This is a long one but it's bursting from the seams with epicness and adventure. Grab a cup of tea and your bladder, your in for an exciting ride.

For those of you who have no idea where Kyrgyzstan is, here's a quick geography lesson

And here's a link to my route in Kyrgyzstan; dotted lines are hitched, solid lines are cycled

As I alluded to earlier, I unknowingly embarked on an epic off road adventure once leaving Song Kol. I topped the pass just south of the lake, which revealed a heavenly oasis of lush green mountains with a snaking path of switchbacks descending the mountain.

I cruised down the switchbacks and shortly after found myself cycling on a horse path that ran alongside the gravel nightmare of a road. I cycled some 5 kilometers on a decent horse path, dodging prickly bushes and trying to keep an eye on the constantly disappearing trail, meanwhile the sun was shining it's finest light on the mountains ahead of me. This was truly a pleasure to cycle.

Descent into Ak-Tal

I pitched my tent in a field just as the last bit of sunlight was vanishing. The next morning I awoke and began to cycle towards Kazarman. I asked a policeman, lazily taking bribes in the middle of the road, if I was on the right road to Kara Suu and he instinctively nodded his head in approval. Another 20 kilometers down the road, I arrived in a unexpected town. Someone informed me that the name of this town was 'Ugut' and I instantly knew that the police man had sent me down the wrong road. No worries though, I would improvise a new route, after all this sort of flexibility and adaptability is critical to cycle tour...I mean adventure cyclist. So I saw a line on my trusty Gizi map connecting this town, Ugut, with Kongorchock. I asked a few locals where the road was and they gave me this horrified and confused look, then pointed me to the other road which went some 100 kilometers out of the way. The road on my Gizi map was exactly what I wanted, a hypotenuse to the two right angle roads that the locals wanted me to take. I was determined to find this road, after all if the Gizi map shows a solid yellow line, it must was during one of my map talks with the men of Ugut (with lines drawn in the sand like we were about to execute a football play) that a policeman pulled up to check out the excitement. I had done really well with avoiding corrupt policeman in Kyrgyzstan, I ran into some french cyclist in Kashgar that told me of a Kyrgyz officer demanding their passports, once their passports were surrendered the policeman demanded $100 if they ever wanted to get them back. So anytime I would pass a Kyrgyz police checkpoint/bribe station, I would just put my head down and continue cycling, despite the whistles and hand motions to try to get me to stop. ('Stupid tourists', I could only imagine them saying). Back to the story....I had done well up to this point with corrupt police but as the policeman approached me and all the men slowly backed away from our football play, I somehow knew my luck was about to change. 'Salam Alekum' (the respectful greeting for anyone older than you), we shook hands then he mumbled the one word I feared the most 'passport'. I played dumb, acting like I had no idea what he had just said (could I pass for illiterate?). 'Passport!' he exclaimed making the imaginary book with his hands. I once again gave the baffled look and he went to his car for something. I grabbed my bicycle, folded my map, threw it in my pannier and started cycling down the road. Could I really get away with this? Beep Beeeep Beeeep ....I was being pulled over, a first on my bicycle. The policeman was furious. I put the bicycle down and approached the perturbed policeman, who showed me what an actual passport looks like. 'Oh....paceport' - I said with the stupidest accent I could come up with at the time, 'Da' - said the red faced policeman. I looked at him and with a stern face and said 'Ney'. He looked at me as if I had just spoken about his mother and he started to get on his cell phone. I knew that this had gone far enough and if he really wanted my money, he would get it one way or another. So I looked behind me for reassurance to a crowd that had at this point grown to the entire town watching the showdown. The townspeople simultaneously motioned for me to give up my passport, meanwhile the policeman is watching this whole non spoken conversation elapse. I dig in my bag, pull out my passport, place it in the hands of the policeman and he walks over to his car. 'This policeman in podunk Kyrgyzstan is about to take me for everything I'm worth'. He sat in his car, wrote my name, DOB, passport and visa number on a little scrap piece of paper then grabs the passport and hands it right back to me. I'm frozen in astonishment, I place the passport back in my bag, shake the policeman's hand and cycle towards my hypotenuse road with a retrospective grin on my face.

So the road immediately evolved into gravel just outside of town, I cycled past a few farms and a few houses until everything just abruptly ended everything that is except for the gravel road that continued into the mountains. So I cycled along this God awful road without seeing any sign of life for 2 land cultivation, no dogs, no houses, no cars, nothing....except for this awful gravel road. So steep and uncompacted that I had to push my cycle up many hills. Luckily I was carrying plenty of food and water because this place was deserted and super hot. The gravel road was apparently the old highway which was abandoned some time ago, this was evident when I arrived at the junction of the road and the river. The road has been completely washed away by a landslide some time ago and was impassible without climbing gear or a white water raft. So I turned around and cycled towards another small path that I had seen earlier. I followed this small path for some 25 slow kilometers, most of the time wondering if I was even on the right track to civilization. It was extremely brutal and after 25 km I encountered the first sign of life since my police encounter, two men on horses. They assured me I was on the right path, which happened to have another river crossing within sight (this one a little more manageable) and they ended up carrying my panniers across the river while I crossed with my bike above my head. 5 kilometers further I arrived at the junction of my hypotenuse road and the main road (still gravel), what should have been a shortcut turned into an extra day of pushing my bike through the boonies. From now on if a local gives me advice, I take it.

This was the bold line on the map that I cycled for 25 km

So I pushed on, cycling another 3 days on remote gravel roads until I reached Kazarman. I was so excited to reach a town that I could already taste the beefsteak meal that awaited me. I combed the entire town, cafes, hotels, even asking locals if they could make beefsteak. It was fruitless and I almost fell down and wept. I settled for 'montou' (mutton dumplings) and 'sherpa' (lamb and potato soup).

Stone art just outside of Kazarman

This is where things get really interesting...I hadn't taken a rest in nearly 15 days and my body was begging me for a break. However I couldn't bring myself to rest in a town without beefsteaks...that's just I pushed on towards Jalalabad, which was theoretically only 1 day away. This turned out to be the hardest and craziest day of my entire trip, no questions asked, gaining 2000 meters of elevation in only 60 km, all on dirt roads, pushing my bicycle up most of the mountain. The road climbed the mountain like a spiral staircase and I could see the top which seemed to remain at the same unobtainable distance. I finally topped out at 3000 meters at 7 pm, absolutely exhausted with only 30 minutes before the light would disappear. The black clouds then took their entrance and ushered in a violent wind that nearly knocked me off my bicycle. The summit was no place to get caught in the storm that was brewing, so I took to the descent and just as the sun was disappearing, I landed at the first yurt from the summit. I set up my tent behind the yurt just as the first rain drops arrived...then came the rain, then the lightning, then came the wind, then came the rain and wind, then came the rain, wind, lightning and the noise of wind roaring through the valley. I sat in my tent wondering who would be the first to be struck by lightning, the yurt or the tent. Would my therma-rest insulate me from the electric shock? It got closer and closer and I was about to wet my pants....then it passed. I took a quick sigh then came the sound of wind and the violence that accompanied it. My tent was bowing, flexing, taking the aluminum poles to another level of elasticity. I was sure that my poles would break. I could hear the wind coming...this sinister and eerie dark sound, then 30 seconds later a blast would hit my tent and I was saying a prayer for my tent. Then praising North Face for making such a quality tent. Then repeating the process for another 3 hours until the wind died down and only rain pelted my tent. I was so relieved, I checked the damage and only one stake had been pulled out of the ground. This was without a doubt the craziest day of my entire trip.....thus far.

The day after the storm

So the next day I unzipped my tent to a wet and soggy world. I felt like I had been hit by a mack truck, I was tired, my body was aching and all I wanted to do was eat a plate of beefsteak and take a break. So after a few bowls of chai (they finally invited me into their yurt the next morning) I hit the soggy road. At first the going was miserably muddy but manageable. About 15 km from the yurt, I encountered the worst mud ever imaginable. It stuck into my brakes, my fenders, my chain...I couldn't even push my bicycle out of the mud. I had to completely pick up the cycle and put it in a grassy section. I was down, mentally and physically, I was wet, there was no way any cars were driving through this road today. I grabbed a stick and started sluggishly scraping out the mud from underneath my fenders, this would take ages and the road was impassable for at least a few days....the beefsteak dream was dead. Just then a car pulled up and motioned for me to get was an older man and his driver who were coming to the mountain to pick up a few sheep for the slaughter. It was a miracle. I plopped my muddy bicycle on top of three sheep who were squashed and nearly suffocating under the weight of my bicycle. I had to closely monitor the sheep's vital signs and constantly make sure they were indeed still breathing. When one of the sheep would stop breathing, we would slam on the brakes and the driver, a 18 year old kid, would jump out of the car, buck knife in hand, ready to slaughter the animal to preserve the meat. It seriously happened about 7 times and each time we lifted the bicycle the sheep would take this gasping breath and the buck knife would go back in the drivers pocket. I felt bad for the sheep but they had it coming sooner or later.

mud covered bike and sheep asphyxia

So to make a long story short, they dropped me and my bike at a car wash in Jalalabad, all 3 sheep took a temporary sigh of relief. I washed all of the mud off my bike, changed my chain and was invited to sleep at one of the car washer's house. I fell asleep watching last seasons Champions League final. 'I have severely improved my predicament!'

So at this point I had been in Kyrgyzstan nearly a month and my time was coming to an end, bittersweet to leave a place that was so dear and positive for me but excited to explore new territory in Tajikistan. I hitched back to Osh and 3 days later I was camping with 4 British motorcyclists only 20 kilometers from the Kyrgyzstan/Tajikistan border.

my last day in Kyrgyzstan

Here's some stats up to this point:
Elevation Gained - 268,760 ft
Time spent on bicycle - 362 hrs
Total distance - 3740 miles


Did I mention I love beefsteak

This was the first thing I encountered when my path interesected the road, 5 people taking their sheep out of the trunk to fix a flat, then shoving it back in the trunk

The view from the top just before the black clouds rolled in

This Kyrgyz family invited me to their picnic on the side of the mountain,
I sent them 10 copies of this picture

The youth of the yurt camp

Just before Sary Tash (round 2)

British motorcyclists near the Tajik border

This guy stopped in the middle of the road and demanded that I take his I did

I played postman by delivering a package from the Sultanovas (Bishkek family)
to their family friends in Aly (southern Kyrgyzstan)

September 8, 2009

Kyrgyzstan part 2....the saga continues

6.15 - 6.25

I awoke from the random field where the truck had dropped us off only a few hours before, my tarp was neatly folded and Peter was nowhere in sight. I mounted the bicycle, sleep deprived and a little disoriented from the truck ride the night before, and cycled towards Bishkek. I wanted to apply for my Tajikistan visa today as it was said to take a week to process. Whenever I visit an embassy I try not to look and smell like a stinky cyclist that just spent the night in a field. So when I arrived in Bishkek, I threw some water on my face, patted down my hair and changed into my 'nice' clothes (slacks I bought in China for $2.25 and short sleeve plaid dress shirt from Thailand). The Lonely Planet describes the Tajik embassy as being 'lost in suburbia' and that turned out to be right on the money. After nearly 4 hours of cycling through endless neighborhoods and asking taxi drivers who all replied with shrugged shoulders, I threw in the towel and bought an ice cream. Sitting on the sidewalk, sweating profusely all over my 'nice' clothes (looking more like a speed junkey than a classy gent) eating my ice cream, full of frustration, I heard 'Hey!'. It was Peter who was returning from the Tajik embassy, he pointed to a side road just down from my sidewalk hangout. Located at the end of a residential cul-de-sac was the infamous Tajik embassy. I rang the bell just in time as the consulate was packing her bags, she kindly accepted my visa application and I left the embassy with a smile on my face.

So I had 4 days to kill before my visa would be ready. Bishkek is a semi-modern city, surrounded by large mountains and nomadic farmers, it's quite interesting to see trolley cars intermixed with donkeys, both of which are carrying people from A to B. I'm not exactly a city person and I was eager to explore the surrounding mountains of Bishkek, so I took a side trip to Ala-Archa Canyon just south of Bishkek. I cycled only about 50 kilometers from the city but gained nearly 1500 meters of was steep. So I landed at a beautiful campsite at the start of the canyon.

Ala-Archa Canyon near Bishkek

I spent the next day hiking through Ala-Archa canyon all the way back to a winter ski hut. I then returned back to my campsite, mounted the Surly and enjoyed loosing all of those 1500 meters of elevation from the previous day. It was about half way through the hike that I remembered that the Kyrgyz family from Bishkek that had passed me on the road and invited me to be a guest in their home were going to return to Bishkek today. So when I arrived in Bishkek I rang Merim, little did I know at the time but this was to be the start of a wonderful friendship with some of the kindest Kyrgyz people in the world, the Sultanovas.

They met me at a Gamburger restaurant (there is no 'H' sound in Russian) and I followed them in their car, me on my bike, to their house. Once again the red carpet was rolled out and they showed me the utmost kindness and hospitality, they treated me like family and we instantly bonded. The family consisted of a spunky english speaking mother, a devoted and successful business-man and father, 3 daughters about my age and 1 younger son. They all spoke extremely good english, the oldest daughter, Ilona, lived in Switzerland and was fluent in both french and english. Unlike most Kyrgyz families I had encountered up to this point, they were extremely relaxed in religion and traditions, i.e. the women were allowed to dress freely and without head scarves, they could also eat and talk with me at diner....this was a huge change from the male dominated Kyrgyzstan that I'd experienced thus far. We enjoyed wonderful conversations, probably the best I've engaged in since Kashgar, we ate huge meals, told jokes, drank Russian vodka, laughed, had dance parties, traded dance moves, shared stories from the road, they showed me around Bishkek, searched for things in the bazaar, never allowing me to spend a penny. I ended up staying 5 days at their house, somewhat waiting for my visa, somewhat feeling the most comfortable I've felt on this trip.

The Sultanovas (aka my Bishkek harem)

When the time finally came to pick up my visa and head down the road, I didn't really want to leave these wonderful people and they were begging me to I spent another 2 days with them. When my time had finally expired, I had to pry myself away from the smiles and laughs. I said goodbye to my amazing hosts and thanked them for all of their kindness and hit the road, munching on the kilo of cherries that they offered me for the road.

Prying myself away from the kindness

So I cycled from Bishkek (the capital) to Lake Issyk Kul, the tenth largest lake in the world and the second largest alpine lake in the world. Issyk Kul used to be a huge destination for Russian vacationers but has declined since the end of the Soviet Union. So I reached the west end of the lake, found a locals beach, procured a plate of beefsteak then stripped down to my swimmies and went swimming (aka bathing in the cycling world). The lake was beautiful, surrounded by mountains to the north and south...I ended up pitching my tent right on the beach and fell asleep to the sound of water rolling back and forth along the shore.

Lake Issyk-Kul

The next morning I said goodbye to my beach utopia and began cycling south towards another alpine lake, Song Kol. Some days of cycling passed, a few more beefsteaks consumed, a few more pristine campsites enjoyed, then I began the rough ascent from Sary Bulak to Song Kol. The road was a torturous 65 kilometers of steep sandy crap. I had to push my bike through some sections, probably the toughest road I'd encountered up to this point, I even cycled through a huge section of snow just before reaching the pass into Song Kol (this was June 23rd). I had climbed nearly 700 meters of elevation on crap roads, I topped the pass and beautiful Song Kol came into view.

I cycled towards the lake when tons of kids came running to the road. I stopped and was persuaded to pitch my tent near a families yurt. It was rather cold, as the summer hadn't exactly reached this part of the mountains, and the family invited me inside for chai. I enjoyed a few cups of chai, made some attempts at the usual bland conversation when I noticed a car pulling up to the yurt. I didn't pay much attention to the car but the next thing I know, two familiar faces pop into the view and to my surprise, it was Merim, Ilona and Ilona's husband, Phillip, from Bishkek. Mind you I'm in the absolute middle of nowhere, not expecting to see anything remotely familiar except the blue sky above. So the Sultanova's had picked up Phillip from the airport who had just arrived from Switzerland, then they decided to go plan a vacation to Song Kol in conjunction with my visit. So we spent the next day riding horses around the mountains that surround lake Song Kol, even riding horses in Song Kol!

Riding horses into the drink

They 'invited me' (this was my first introduction to the wonderful term) for the horse ride, once again not allowing me to spend a penny. We spent that night in a yurt, just the four of us, bundled up in blankets and telling jokes until we fell asleep. It was really great to see them again and the next morning we said our farewells for a second time and I mounted the bike. 5 minutes down the road, I was already missing them.

Saying goodbye for the second time

So I cycled along the perimeter of the lake, from the north to the south shore, passing seasonal, semi-nomadic Kyrgyz families living in yurts and taking advantage of the endless green natural resources for their livestock. This was the beginning of my epic offroad adventure......more on that to come but first more pictures.

Look how small the kid is compared to the horse

Kyrgyz kids around Song Kol

Our beautiful horses at Song Kol

Big Guns!

A Kyrgyz family and their yurt around Song Kol

This kid reminded me of Chunk from the Goonies