Sunday, 9 September 2007

A year of love!

Ruth says: For our aniversary we managed to find a restaurant in Bishkek that didn't have dill on everything, and imported food and wine from Italy! After weeks of mutton it was heaven!

Just for you Ric

Another Soviet statue. This time in Bishkek.

Kyrgyz Life

Bob says: Our gastronomic tour of Kyrgyzstan is near an end. To help understand the Kyrgyz psyche it's important to delve into the national obsessions. Apart from the culinary delights (why not put dill on everything!), sport plays a big part in Kyrgyz life, from goat carcass polo (I kid you not), to wrestling and weightlifting yer Kyrgyz are keen sportsmen. Perhaps the most dynamic of these sports is the motor slalam. Practice for this high risk sport is carried out by almost all drivers at all times, and the kyrgyz government has kindly left most of the roads littered with potholes to facilitate high achievement. In addition to the potholes, farm animals and people also provide the drivers with sufficient slalam obstacles.
The object of the sport is to navigate through potholes/farm animals/people/slow moving traffic with minmal use of the brake. Techniques for this includes use of the whole road regardless of oncoming traffic, indeed, should there be an oncoming vehicle the real skill of the driver is shown by how close they can get to it before moving slalam style to the other side. Farm animals are treated to the horn repeatedly and it is assumed they will recognise that a fast moving vehicle is approaching and take avertive action (this has proved to be the case so far). This technique is also relevant to people.
When approaching slow moving traffic it is of the highest importance to get round them ASAP, remember, never brake, it's a sign of weakness. Waiting for the so-called "safe" opportunity to pass is simply not in the spirit of the sport. One of the most skillfull manoeuvres is the blind corner overtake with oncoming traffic. The skill involved in this has to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately my eyes were closed at the time so I simply have to believe that we made it round the corner.
One last point, should all options on the road be exhausted and you may be thinking of using the brake, don't. It is perfectly acceptable to manoeuver off the road!
Should motor slalam make it to the London Olympics, I guarantee a Kyrgyz gold medal. Their only serious competiton would come from the Albanians.
Other sports increasing in popularity include the Toilet Relay and Squat Shot. The toilet relay is facilitated largely by the aforementioned culinary delights, and the distance between yurt/guesthouse to outside toilet/target. The squat shot is a highly skilled sport involving hitting a rather small target or hole whilst remaining conscious. Holding one's breath can be a mistake as it may not give you enough time to position, fire the shot and get out: a large intake of breath could be fatal!
Practising the above sport has led to dramatic weight loss. I am currently down to belt loop No. 5. For scale, post Dando Christmas is usually belt loop No. 2. I am considering publishing the Kyrgyz weight loss programme.

Lake Song Kol in the morning of day 3

At Lake Son Kol- evening

Ruth says: it was pretty beauiful as you can see. The little tiny shed thing in front of the mountains was the toilet which was best to be avoided at all costs, and the yurts were our home for the night.

Horse trek to Song Kol Lake- Day 2

Ruth says: The lake is above 3000 metres so it got pretty cold. After our tough trek to Ala Kol we were grateful for the horses even if Bob did have to lead his horse part way up one hill because it looked like it would collapse. Here you can see cowboy Bob, when he had swapped horses after one of his renditions of "Home On The Range".

1st night in a Yurt

Ruth says: this is where we stayed the first night. The insides as you can see are really lavishly decorated with loads of carpets and rugs and it's really quite cosy. We got to sample more traiditional Kyrgyz food, namely the gorgeous fresh cream and jam with bread- just like a devonshire tea, and the perfect antidote to too much mutton stew. We also tasted kymys- fermented mare's milk. It tastes just as you would imagine. A sip was all we could manage.
After dinner the little table was cleared away and bed made up of piles and piles of the rugs and blankets. It snowed all night, but was really cosy and warm. The two Israeli girls in the picture were doing the trek with us.

Saturday, 8 September 2007

Horse trek - Day 1

Bob says: We based ourselves in the town of Kochkor and set out from near there towards lake Song-kol. 1st day we were 6 hours on horseback, not natural if you ask me. Following this trek I firmly believe that horses should be wild and not ridden, it is torture for the ass!
Ruth says: He loved it really. By the second day he was cantering like the rest of us and we were even having races.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Trek day 4- Down the Arashan Valley

Ruth says: We had an unexpected night spent in Altyn Arashan when we arrived at 6 in the evening and were told that it was another three hours walk to the end. Fortunately we were offered a bed and dinner in a guest house (we had run out of food by lunchtime) and there just so happened to be some hot springs there where we could take a gorgeous bath followed by a dip in the freezing river.
Bob says: This walk presented some of the most spectacular and picturesque views that we have ever seen. It was certainly worth dragging the bag around. For clafication I mean the rucksack. One bad point was the soviet petrol stove that we hired, having two settings: flame thrower and candle. All very well if you want to torch a village or light a lantern but if you want to boil river water, highly frustrating. The hairs on my arms are just starting to grow back.

Trek Day 3- Ala Kol Lake- Altyn Arashan

Bob says: Day 3 took us to the summit of the walk at about 3900 metres.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Trek Day 2- Ala Kol Lake Ascent

Bob says: The hardest day of the trek when we climbed from around 2000 metres to 3500 metres at the lake edge.
Ruth says: The horses at the top are wild horses. We heard them arrive in the night and then woke up to find our tent surrounded in the morning.

Trek Day 1- The Karakol Valley

Ruth says: After our dodgy tummy episode we decided to make thing nice and easy for ourselves and do a trek which was initially meant to take three days but thanks to numerous factors including hailstorms and a very dodgy stove it took us four days. We hired a tent and all the necessary camping equipment and set off into absolutely stunning mountains with backpacks weighing about 17kg each. It was very very hard, but so worth it. I have never seen anywhere like it.
Bob says:As the wife says we encountered bad weather on the way up the valley. When we finally camped the weather had completely cleared up but the earlier bad weather had forced some very disgruntled French from the summit. They decided not to camp at the lake because of the weather, only to find it that it cleared when they got down near our first camp. After one Frenchman told us of his woes, he left declaring that he was going to Bishkek to find a woman with big jugs. Presumably he meant the Kyrgyz pottery sold by the local women. Very cultured yer French!


Bob says: Following two or three days halled up in our guest house in Karakol doing the toilet relay we finally acheived bowel confidence and took a picnic up to the beautiful Jeti-Oghuz. The rock formation at the bottom is known as the Broken Heart. Given the name it was strange to see a Kyrgyz wedding party having photos next to it later in the day. The third picture shows the traditional yurts which are usually used as kitchens for cafes at tourist spots.
Ruth says: Yurts are the traditional homes of the nomadic shepherds. They are still used for that purpose as well as cafe kitchens.

Karakol - The Animal Market

Ruth says: This was at about 7 in the morning. It was just a crazy mass of people and animals with no visible order anywhere. It was really good fun to go and see. See if how many traditional Kyrgyz hats you can spot. The old men wear them with suits, it looks rather odd.