When we entered Kyrgyzstan on motorcycles, it was our second time in this country because only a week ago we visited it on foot together with my friend Valerija, who was visiting us that time, so we knew what to expect: pretty much the same people and culture as in Kazakhstan, but much more mountains!
Right after crossing the border, we rode about 50 kilometers of very bad bumpy road until we got closer to lake Issyk-Kul. By the time we got to one of the villages (this one was called Taldy-Su) it got completely dark. Luckily the only metal vehicles on the road were our motorcycles. All the other beings on the road included only big herds of sheep, cows, horses and mounted shepherds on horses or donkeys.
In Taldy-Su we stopped at the local grocery store to get something for dinner in case we won't find a guesthouse to stay in for the night and will have to camp. The guesthouse was the preference for that night since it was getting very cold and we have been tired after a long day in the mountains in Kazakhstan (where I dropped my bike into the creek), search for fuel and a long and bumpy ride on the dusty road. I asked the shopkeeper if there is a guesthouse in this village and he told me that the nearest one is in the next bigger village 50 km away. Meanwhile another young man which was buying something in the shop, asked me if we would consider a homestay. After clarifying that they have a shower (as it has been a while since we've been in one and desperately needed it after two days of dusty riding on steep gravel tracks and roads), we agreed they would host us for one night. It was a newly built clean and cozy house where a young family lived with their three children. We had dinner together and told each other about the important things in life. While ours was to see the world at this moment and realize what it is exactly with all the nature, all the different people, religions, traditions and their way of life, theirs was their house and family and traditions. They said, even though it would be wonderful to travel at least in their own country, they have a priority to finish their house and grow their family. They have made a temporary bed for us on the floor in one of their rooms out of a few layers of blankets and it didn't take long for us to fall into a deep sleep after two long days of riding. In the morning during breakfast, my favorite part was when the young wife said partly to us, partly to herself: 'when going to sleep last night I though to myself, how will you two live when you will be old...'. I love how different traditions, different religions and different backgrounds make the same creature - a human being - see life so differently...
Next day we continued on the same road on the Northern side of lake Issyk-Kul. I must admit that I am very happy for the decision we made for our first visit to Kyrgyzstan with Valerija, to explore the South coast of this lake. The Northern side as we were told, is more touristic and fancy, while the South side was more wild, with much less infrastructure. And actually on the Northern side there were many dusty, chaotic local villages and so called resorts which didn't look nice at all and were all closed because the touristic season was over.
That day we had a meeting scheduled with our Instagram friends @rolling.east Alessia and Ross who are cycling from London to Melbourne. We first heard from them in the begining of 2017 when they were looking for a new tent for their travels and were interested in the new MSR Hubba Tour 2 which we were using before it became available for sale thanks to our partners Lukla.lt who got it for us directly from MSR. We had a choice of two routes to get to the place which Ross and Alessia were hoping to reach after a long day of asscending a mountain on bikes powered by their own muscles - we could ride to Bishkek and take the main road to Osh all the way from there, or we could turn South from the village called Balykchi which is located on the Westernmost corner of Issyk-kul lake. All the locals told us that it is wiser to take the "good road" to Bishkek and continue from there, but since we have seen Bishkek a week ago and had no wish to get stuck in traffic there and then just ride on the highway all the time, we decided to take a risk and ride the road less traveled :) It was a great road for the first 100 kilometers. Pretty scenic, to be honest. But then we had to take a turn towards the mountains and it became worse and worse. First it was a paved road with a lot of potholes, then it turned to something which was once a paved road but now looked like a very bumpy gravel road and as we asscended more, it became a wide gravel road with lots of big rocks everywhere. And suddenly a lot of old trucks loaded with coil appeared. It was a tough ride with all the trucks around us bumping in giant coulds of dust. Finally, after another 100 or so kilometers or paved or unpaved (or even completely closed) roads we reached a section of brand new pavement and had a big wide motorway almost only for us. Until... our gps showed a turn, which we hoped was a turn of the main road and that the last 100 km of the road for that day would continue to be on the perfect pavement, but it was not that way... Right after we took the turn, the pavement went bad again and... in a few more meters was completely gone. We rode a beautiful river valley on again a bumpy gravel road with big herds of sheep being let home by their mounted shepherds.
Finally, back in some kind of civilization, when only about 20 kilometers were left to the place where we had to meet our friends and as the sun was almost gone behind one the mountains in the horizon, Linas saw some action in the field further away from the road, behind a line of houses in one of the small villages. Nomad games! The traditional competition where a team of four horse riders fight against another team trying to carry the body of dead sheep into their well (something like football mixed with polo, only with two wells instead of the gates and a dead animal instead of a ball...). Villages play this game against other villages and once in two years they organize International Nomad Games in one of the countries in this region where they all have a tradition to play it. After the game the lamb is roasted and eaten by the participants. The meat becomes very soft after being kicked and tossed so much. So we were lucky enough to see two villages playing a small round and make some pictures with all the kids who were keen spectators of this local event before we had to rush on, since we still had some distance ahead of us and it was really getting dark. Check out our video blog for some action of these nomad games here: https://youtu.be/aRkTMQolayU?t=4m38s
Finally, again in complete darkness, after a few phone calls, we found these two fellas cold as we were, on the side of the road, next to the gates leading to a fancy guesthouse called Suus Lodge. At that time we haven't seen was it fancy or not, but the people agreed to host us as their only guests and we soon realized that the place was chick! You could have one like that smewhere in Europe and be proud. It was clean and modern. And it even had a table tennis! We had a great match with Ross after many shots of local Kyrgyz cognac until... we broke the table into two pieces... Luckily with some help from Linas and Alessia we managed to put it back together and leave it there hoping that noone will use it any time soon... Neither of us had budgeted a new table tennis when planning our long distance trips...
Next morning the weather forcast showed... heavy snow. It was supposed to start at noon and continue until next morning! And since we were up in the mountains with two high passes on each side - one for us in the South, one for Ross and Alessia in the North, on the way to Bishkek, we decided not to risk getting stuck in that place. We packed quickly and after making a few funny shots with the cyclists, we rode away.
The sky turned darker and darker as we got closer to the mountain pass. First huge white snowflakes started flying around and I laughed and sang "Jingle Bells" to Linas over the intercom, then the road became wet and the temperature dropped to zero... I stopped laughing and we both slowed down as the road was really curvy. On the pass it was snowing heavily, everything around was completely white, the road was wet (or maybe icy?), the temperature was -2C degrees and we were moving at the speed of the turtle on the first gear behind the truck which wasn't moving any faster... After about 30 minutes, all wet and cold we finally reached the place where temperatures started rising again, the snowfall turned into nasty rain and then, after a few kilometers more, the rain was over and the road was dry again. Apparently we managed to almost skip the awful weather in the North.
Next day Alessia and Ross sent us a video of a deep deep winter in the place where we left them that morning and meanwhile we were in Toktogul with sunshine and pleasant 19C degrees.
During the next three days we continued exploring Kyrgyzstan. We went up the mountains again to visit Arslanbob, a remote village which is famous for being great place to start mountain hikes and for its walnut forests where during the harvest, people pick fresh tasty nuts. There we stayed in an authentic homestay again, where we had a small room with absolutely no furniture. The place somehow was very cozy as was the whole village with all the friendly locals in it.
Kyrgyztan in general is a very cozy and nice country with friendly locals everywhere, inexpensive natural food, interesting culture and magestic mountains. If I would be asked to pick 5 favorite countries from the ones we have visited so far, Kyrgyzstan would definitely be on my list!