2 Wheels Good in Kyrgyzstan
After 8 days and close to 2000km we gave back the beast in Bishkek. As it happened the following day was Kyrgyz national day, so we hung around to experience the celebrations. One of the main attractions of the day is the large competition of kok-boru which is a game where 2 teams on horseback try to get a headless goat into the opposing teams end zone. It is a high action game and the small stadium was packed for the event.
The evenings entertainment was less full of action and the singing from the large stage quickly became quite dull and the absence of any food or beer stands did not help. It seemed however at least to be popular amongst the locals.
After another relaxing day in Bishkek at a brand new hostel we got back on the bikes and headed the long way round to Almaty. The lake Issyk Kul to the east of Almaty is the major tourist draw in Kyrgyzstan particularly for Kyrgyz, Kazakhs and Russians. In the summer months it is apparantly so full that it is difficult to get a room. We arrived however stratgically after most had left and had for lunch the beach to ourselves and our pick of rooms in Chopon Ata the main town. The lake made a refreshing swim after a long day on the bike.
The next place we stayed was less glamorous. it was marked on the open street map as a hotel which maybe it was 20 years ago. We were met at the gate by a vicious dog, closely followed by an old man. We got a serious of ‘niet’ on our demands for a room and only after several minutes could we persuade him to let us in. The hotel itself had vast gardens leading directly to the lake but was in quite a state of disrepair. Only the threatening dark clouds persuaded us to take the room here rather than camp. The room had fake curtains in all the walls which had probably once been stylish, but now just served as hiding place for spiders and their cobwebs. Our host provided no food, so after rustling up another rice dish, we gingerly lay on top of the beds in our sleeping bags and enjoyed a surprisingly good sleep.
The following day turned into an epic as we pressed on to cross the border. The riding was some of the nicest though and after leaving the lake we had green pastures with farms, animals and little traffic as we headed up the broad valley to the border. The smooth asphalt turned into a more standard Kyrgyzstan rock road and a nasty headwind developed, but none of this detracted from our enjoyment. The border was relatively simply except for having a young power hungry customs guy. These types are always the most annoying as they like to exert their authority for no other reason than to annoy the traveller or in this case to seemingly impress his boss showing that he was disecting the contents of all our panniers. Eventually we repacked and headed the 20m to Kazakhstan where an older version of the Kyrgyz guy tried doing the same. He wasn’t quite on the same power trip though and we could persuade him that everything had just been searched, it was cold and we still had over 20km into a headwind to ride!
As such we rolled into Kegen quite late, but managed to find the only hotel again thanks to it being located on Open Street Maps. On the outside it looked like a decrepit karaoke hall, but round the back was a small door leading to some quite acceptable hotel rooms.
We ate in the otherwise empty karaoke hall and were served a particularly greasy and cold plov. Despite being hungry we managed no more than a few spoonfulls of this revolting dish before heading back to the room and digging in to some snacks. It was not the best introduction to Kazakh cuisine.