Confident I am well on the road to recovery Adrienne has managed to get a ticket from Bishkek to New Zealand.
We spend our last evening reminiscing over photos and squeezing in a mini facial. It is a lovely and fitting end to this epic adventure we have had together. We crash for a few hours before an early rise and farewells. It is a 50hr trip and so as Adrienne is leaving she says “well the adventure is not quite over yet”!
She couldn’t have known just how right she was – a few hours later we were together again. Because of the multi city flights in China and the long delays – a 24 transit visa just wouldn’t cut it. So Adrienne wasn’t allowed to board and instead was sent back to the hostel. With wonderful support from home she managed to get another series of flights the next day. Homeward bound Take II. Of course it wasn’t simple – it was challenging and complicated but she managed to get a new ticket with the requisite shorter transit times albeit not without quite a bit of stress.
I leave mid afternoon – headed to Kochkor. I decide to go by mashrutka (minibus) – there is plenty of room. It’s not too bad. At first I don’t notice I am the only woman in the vehicle- here that doesn’t bother me or seem to bother anyone else. Though once we start chatting via google translate I am asked if my husband is not jealous 😁.
As always, the warmth and generosity of people is on display. We stop and I am handed a glass of icy cold compote that someone has bought for me. Then later Ayiron and biscuits. I had t planned well for the trip so it is all very welcome. Nurbek and his son who I am sitting next too are great company and we rely almost entirely on charades to communicate. It flows better that way.
Soon enough I am back to the lovely clean Good Hostel that I had been whisked away from by ambulance – having left Adrienne in Bishkek to do the final shopping you never have time or space for on a bike. (That was the upside of being mucked around with flights. The good news was with the new flights she still arrived home at the same scheduled time.
A lovely eve in Kochkor with the family and now I’ve headed to Song kul. I am winding my way up the mountain, assessing the gradient, the potholes the size of the gravel, the dust, the width of the road as oncoming traffic approaches (I have plenty of warning as a cloud of dust precedes them). None of this is really necessary- I am in a car. I have imagined for months riding up this road though – and so I want the road and I to have a more intimate connection.
Having recently had an experience which had made me confront my mortality- I find some of the edges a little close, the corners a little tight and the overtaking sometimes too tight and too close. Still the driver is good – it is just me and him and he drives slowly and carefully. We see the lake from a distance – it is much bigger and a little less majestic that I had imagined. There is some snow on the surrounding mountains but not much.
Today there is the annual horse games festival at Song Kul. Perhaps I could’ve chosen a better time to come. I am taken to the requested yurt camp and we are both fed – just a little too much.
There are people everywhere- many many tourists who at first all seem under thirty, (though later I meet others to refute this stat). There are also lots of Kyrgyz families -the men, boys and some girls on horseback, the women working to feed all the visitors.
After lunch the games begin – literally. A horse game a bit like polo though you don’t what to know what they use for a ball! After a very short period I decided a walk along the lake was more my cup of tea. A sprinkling of others had decided on the same idea.
There is a lull after the games, people wandering chatting, children -usually more than one at a time – galloping along on horseback – the horse four and five times bigger than them. They have an ease and confidence I cannot even imagine. And there are local games – a bit like pétanque but with stones instead of balls.
There is music, singing and dancing – the setting, lakeside, with snow drizzled mountains at the back – could not be more spectacular. I’m not sure how long I will stay – one or two nights, but for now I am here.
Before long with everyone crowded around the bonfire the music takes a different turn – it’s now 80s ad 90s music. I slip away for an early night.
Song Kul is a tourist Mecca – there are more tourists congregated here than I am used to and the Festival has probably exacerbated that. There are also more cycle tourers than I have seen in one place in the whole trip. Here they are common!
With tourist Mecca, comes high volume turnover and here of course power is only from generators and then use is limited. I’m not sure about how often the sheets have been washed – so am especially glad I have my silk sleeping sheet and pillow (thanks Vanessa) and pillow case with me.
I am up early, wandering to the nearby mountains and lake and of course can’t resist wading in and getting wet.
Wandering is a joy – early every else is still sleeping – I can chat with donkeys, cows, horses and the mountains and flowers. I love this time of day.
There are still lots of people about, I think too many. I will head back to the quiet of Good Hostel in Kochkor. It takes quite a while to organise a lift. Many others drift away, and it seems I am the last one standing. Finally a car comes along and I negotiate a trip back.
The car is empty when I get in. By then time we leave, we have a goat, five children, four adults, lots of Kumys, milk and varied other supplies.
I am thankful I am sitting in the front. The drive out is as beautiful and as scary as the drive in but I focus on the view and it carries me away.
Returning to Kochkor, feels like returning home. Elmira and Elena welcome me like a favourite aunt. I wash, rest and then wander. Elmira takes me to the local handicrafts shop – there is so many beautiful things – I am keen to buy a shyrdak but there are just too many to decide on – and of course now I know how it is done – I am more choosy, I have high expectations. There are too many to choose from, so they all stay in the shop – instead I just get one or two small things as gifts. (Travelling by bike – there is never much room for purchases but now as I approach the end – and of course not really riding – I decide I can squeeze a bit more in.)
Dinner with the family is the final treat for the day. I feel I have graduated to the next level, usually guests eat first but tonight I am invited to dine with the family.
Today Azazmat has headed to Issyk Kol to pick up Erbol, Alia and possibly Alda (though he is not keen to leave his grandparents – or the opportunity for daily swims in the lake!). Azamat cant find Erbol, Alia or Alda so wont be back until late in the evening.
I get to look after Elena for a little while – she no longer considers me a stranger. After 15 minutes I realise body is still a little sore – I forgot how much 10 months old weigh. Elmira Elena and I head out for dinner to the local restaurant. It is easy and relaxed – and I am pleased Elmira has agreed to having a night off.
Long before the others return I head to bed.
Today is my last day in Kochkor – I am so happy that I returned. The animal market is on today, it starts early but I do not. By the time I head in that direction there are people everywhere in the streets with a sheep or two and the odd goat just standing around while its new owners share a pot of chai or some Kumys.
The market is not just an animal market – you can buy anything there. The local bike shop is there, plenty of food (all meat), clothes, shoes, tools – it is all available. I slowly amble around soaking it all in, then wander home.
Almost before I know it, it is mid afternoon and it is time to go – I’m happy and sad. I feel like I have a Kyrgyz family and they say they have an Australian sister. They are very special indeed.
(I do not get to farewell Alda he has stayed at the lake – summer holidays with grandparents and a lake – what could be better)
Erbol escorts me to the mashrutka and makes sure I am offered a fair price for the ride back. It’s a relaxed three hours and then I am am back in the busy throngs of Bishkek, west bus station.
Returning to places even when you have only been away a few days feel good. The welcome is a little more friendly the smiles just that little bit bigger.
I spend the evening organising my trip to Osh , car and bike together so I can do some riding but in an easy supported way. I am so looking forward to being back on my bike. It will be two weeks since the accident.
Today I will pick up my bike, then tomorrow head south. I can hardly wait!