The generosity and warmth of the people of this region has been overwhelming – mostly that has been good, but something not good has happened, we have come to expect it!
In the midst of being really appreciative, of not believing just how lucky we are, of continually being amazed at the breadth and depth of hospitality, we have made the mistake of thinking it would happen everywhere …. and being horrified when it didnt.
It’s hard to know why the usual hospitality wasnt forthcoming- perhaps it was because we chose not to stay in the house and instead camp outside but at Altyn Oimo – we felt like the paying clients we were rather than wrapped in the bosom of the family as we have so often felt. Still we were there to learn felting and felting we did.
Ala Kiyiz (Ala Keez) is a method of making felt. A recognisable plant (polyn/ermn – that we don’t know the English name of) is boiled in water – and eventually poured on the prepared wool – acting as a repellent against moths and mould extending the life of the final felt.
There are many stages – two base layers of wool – with the fibre of the second layer running across the first layer. The final layer then has a pattern – mostly using traditional plant and animal motifs. I try to get in to the creative spirit but at first it feels a bit like putting in insulation! Pulling bits of wool and filling in small gaps to make everything even. Once the third layer is in – the boiling water with said repellent is then poured over the wool layer. It’s a family affair, mother, father and son are all involved in teaching us.
Then the sushi mat appears – but it is much much bigger than usual! The wool mats are tightly rolled, then wrapped then more boiled water (and repellent) poured over then tied up then stomped on.
The stomping goes on for quite a while – we think this part really needs music but all we can come up with is an Army call – One Two Three Four Stomp it now and Stomp it more, Five Six Seven Eight, Stomp it Hard and Use your Weight. This goes on for fifteen to thirty minutes until we are sick of it and they are sick of our “music”.
Then it’s washing, compressing, washing, compressing and eventually the finished felts are hung up to dry. Despite my initial hesitation I have enjoyed the process and learnt much.
Then Stage two of the learning process begins. Shyrdak (sheerduck) – joining pieces of felt that is then used in lining and decorating the yurts. The designs are again primarily plant and animal based. Zhangyl who runs the NGO Altyn Oimo draws on a motif then cuts out the same design on two pieces of felt, our pieces with be a mirror image of each other, blue on white and white on blue.
At first my frustration levels are high – this doesnt feel creative, this feels hard and repetitive, I seem to have forgotten that repetition can be a clear road to mastery. It takes some time before I remember that and even then it is only after Zhangyl (Jungil) has got me past the very initial hurdles. Adrienne, weaver, knitter, spinner is travelling along nicely and helps me identify and learn some of the finer components of success.
Well before Day one is finished I actually feel like i am getting this. Having managed to work out how to join two thick pieces of felt and cover the join with two separate threads of wool without it looking like my Grade 3 sewing assignment – I start Day 2 perhaps just a little too confident. It seems my greatest challenge is threading the needle – as I spend so much time unpicking I am constantly having to rethread the needle.
Two bits of felt and two threads was hard enough I am struggling seriously with two bits of felt and three threads. I do persevere but eventually Zhangyl realises without her intervention I may not get to the final stage – so she completes the border. It is challenging and even Adrienne requires some assistance with the border. I sew late into the night committed to finishing the piece before we leave tomorrow. Despite myself I get it done and go to bed feeling very pleased with myself.
The next morning it seems the whole family is happy with our work. We do show and tell and requisite photos then head off winding our way slowly back to the lake.
Bokonbeavo is another old town with gingerbread houses and set at the foot of snow capped mountains. Like many of its counterparts around the country and structural remnants of its Soviet past are never far away.
The setting of Bokonbaevo is stunning – right at the foot of the mountains. Though with the roads we are riding and the land we are seeing, it’s hard to not take the view from the lounge room window for granted.
It’s a slow hot climb out of Bokonbaevo where Altyn Oimo is located but the lure of Issyk Kol helps us up the hills. The view once we get to the top also makes it worthwhile.
In the middle of nowhere there is a cafe – we are not overly tired or overly starving but we stop anyway and get out of the heat. It’s a tasty and leisurely stop and we feel re-energised when we head off again – up a small hill again. Finally we have wound our way back to the shores of Issyk Kol and the glistening waters beckoning us in.
It’s a family beach – so we change discretely (though it’s hard removing sweaty bike shorts with no fuss). We notice people are fairly modest or at least trying to be.
Once we have cooled off we head off again – keen to camp somewhere close to Issyk Kol just one more time. As I stop at the yurt shaped bus stop – the turn off to our preferred wild camping spot (there’s an app iOverlander that tells us where we ca camp for free) there is a group of men erecting a yurt.
They have just started. They can see we are interested and responding to our interest start handing us poles and ropes so we can assist them. I am both surprised and delighted that they so willingly involve us.
We havent seen the very beginning but they are not far into it when we arrive. Well before we get to the end – they explain this is their day camp – they have a Schwarma stall next door – they ask if we would like to stay in it for the night. Why not – the structure is complete the felt goes on then later the carpet floor arrives.
The women of the family are working in the food stall while the yurt is being erected. One is a relatively recent mother with baby number 5 in her arms who is having problems breastfeeding. She quickly latches on to the opportunity of having a very experienced midwife on tap.
With no need for a shared spoken language – Adrienne draws on her years of experience and soon has addressed a long standing issue. Samara is very appreciative. She and her sister imagine a different life riding bikes around the country.
As the sun goes down – everyone leaves and we clamber in to our yurt. We sleep well and deep in a cosy dark yurt – there is no waking at 5am as the sun comes up, we dont feel the heat, we sleep later than usual and it is an absolute delight!Still we are well on the road before anyone surfaces – the people of Central Asia do not seem to be early risers!
There’s a headwind, there is a continual steady incline there are no towns, no shops no water. After about 6 kms there are a few farm houses – we refill our water knowing this is the last stop before we hit Kochkor some 50+ kms down the road.
There are camels – just by the side of the road. Even they look affected heat and suffering from the lack of water. Neither of their two humps can stand up by itself. Their wilting humps is a great reflection of how I am feeling.
Kilometres keep rolling away and eventually I roll into Kochkor. Just as I am demolishing the interim snack of biscuits and fruit and coffee before very late lunch arrives, Adrienne joins me. I have stopped at the first cafe I have seen. There are lots of tourists – I should know by now this is rarely a sign that there is good food available and certainly not good local food.
Still it is food and it gives us time to find somewhere to stay Good Hostel – the name is promising. And it is. Very good. A really delightful family, Erbol is 13 and speaks great English and keeps everything running smoothly. Despite our best efforts and those of maps.me we cant find the place – and after riding around in circles he come to find us. Good hostel is great, its clean, friendly, plenty of space for the bikes, great food. We love it.
We arrive and settle in. Its been a long, hot day. Adrienne has been grappling with homesickness. It’s a long time to be away from family and just lately the long time has felt too long. So we think a final little side trip together, a final hurrah together will be a great way to finish off this extraordinary shared adventure.
So we organise a car trip to Tash Rabat – a caravanserais in the Central South east. Bolot our driver is a civil lawyer though spends much of the summer driving tourists about as the pays is much better. He is has great English, knowledge lots and is warm generous and very accommodating of our requests to stop and take photos and just have a break.
Everyone says the scenery in Kyrgyzstan is spectacular but of course until you are here you don’t really know what they mean. Yes there are snow capped mountains, green expansive valleys, ragged mountains, enormous folds of earth that seem to have been formed earlier than time itself and it is all jumbled together with no order but no chaos either. Breathtaking doesn’t do it justice and we are just seeing a small corner of it.
We stop at Tash Rabat early evening – there are mountain sheep wandering the walls of Tash Rabat. It is set in valley of yurt camps – green hills and rocky outcrops punctuating the skyline. We are now above 3500m and the temperature has definitely dropped.
Tonight we sleep in a yurt with the stove burning. I remember to send of our GPS spot message just before i go to sleep. There are two messages to send. When I get up later to send the second message the SPOT is nowhere to be found. With Adrienne homesick and heading home early, the loss of the SPOT feels even more challenging. Sleep is fitful and i wake early. Still no SPOT. Finally after much asking around and searching it reappears – and calm once again returns.
In addition to the sheep there are goats aplenty – one little goat has lost its mother. I am more than willing to step in – at least in a short term capacity. It’s a cold morning but the warmth of it curled in my lap melts my heart as it drifts off to sleep. I am reluctant to get up for breakfast and disturb it. Though I know we have fabulous fresh bread that Adrienne has helped make.
The morning light is just beautiful – it would be easy to spend days and days here absorbing it all in every shade of the day.
Though we wander early it is not until after breakfast that Tash Rabat is opened and we can see what lies beneath- it is mind boggling- it looks small but once inside the tunnels and rooms seem to spread out in every direction.
Today after breakfast is a horse trek – a new adventure for us both – though I have ridden before it is long ago and my memories are not that positive.
Still despite our nervousness (I have covered mine well) we saddle up – keen to see an alpine lake in an areas our bikes just couldn’t get to. And off we trot….