More on our trip to Kyrgyzstan
After a wet night, we wake up to bright sunshine and decide that there is nothing for it but to go off for a walk up the mountains which are surrounding us and sure enough, off we go after a hearty breakfast, taking what looks to be the gentlest slope, which soon becomes steep. We feel the altitude in our legs and go up in short spurts, as there is no rush and there are plenty of beautiful views to look at. Underneath our feet are masses of wild flowers, grasshoppers and butterflies, while eagles soar above.
We pass a family milking a group of mares and a couple bringing back firewood from the forest. Up and up we go and eventually we reach the top of the mini valley we are walking up and it widens out into a jailoo, a summer pasture, surrounded by even higher mountains. The jailoo was full of flocks of sheep and goats whilst a few cows stood around watching the goings on. A yellow wagtail was fluttering from rock to rock and later a herd of horses came our way. A total delight.
We were told that there was a lake further on but we had walked far enough and the weather the other side of the main valley looked threatening so we decided to return down to the guesthouse, by which time the rain had already started and Fred realised all of a sudden that the skin on his legs was all burnt because the silly chap had not bothered to put any suntan lotion on.
We waited our turn to return to the hot baths and it was certainly very relaxing.
Our host at the guest house brings us back down to Karakol with the Spanish chap we had met the evening before. The young man who was travelling for four weeks and who had less in his rucksack than Fred had in his toiletries bag (well, almost).
We are dropped off at the Eco-Tours office in the centre of Karakol and ask the nice young girl who works there if she can help us find a nicer place to stay than the yurt camp and she pointed us towards the Altamira Hotel which just happened to be next door. This was an altogether different proposition, a modern, family-run hotel with a normal bedroom and so on. Perfect for Fred to take the rest of the day off for a snooze whilst I set off for Jeti-Ögüz with a view to look at the amazing rock formations there and to go riding into the mountains and get a good view of a glacier.
So off I go in the taxi, taking an easier road up the valley to where a group of young people were waiting with horses to take people further up. I was assigned my horse and was a bit surprised to find out we were going tandem on the poor beast. I tried to explain that I wanted to go up to see teh glacier but it was clear that the message was not received properly as we set off along the floor of the valley, still with beautiful views of the forests and mountainsides.
I decided to walk back to the Jeti-Ögüz village and was pleased to see an old taxi waiting there when I arrived but first I wanted to get closer to the sandstone rocks to take some photos. Just as I was walking back, I saw the taxi leaving and had a feeling that this might have been the last taxi of the day and, as I had not seen any minibuses either I began to feel that I might have got myself rather stuck. Fortunately, an Intourist bus arrived into the village and stopped to let the passengers take some pics and the young tour leader must have seen me looking rather despondent and asked me if she could help. I explained my situation and she immediately offered me a lift back to Karakol, standing room only. All goes well until, amazingly, as we are on the best stretch of road I have seen in Kyrgyzstan, we get a blow-out! Out we all get and find a verge full of blue sage flowers, cannabis plants and crows feathers. Very odd.
I get back to find Fred just showered and ready to go out and enjoy a nice cool Efes at Karakol Coffee house and a hot plate with our friends at Stealth, but not before a walk around the Communist parks of the town, taking a video of the council offices whilst Whitney Houston sings her classic ' I Will Always Love You'. Quite surreal.
Time for a quiet day. We have been hanging around Karakol for a few days now but haven't spent too much time wandering around the town and we know there are some things that are worth seeing. So, we have a late start and a delicious breakfast served by the charming owner of our hotel and then set off to find the Dungan Mosque. This was built about 100 years ago by the Dungan people from China who moved into Karakol at the time. it is made of wood and without any nails and looks more like a Chinese temple than a mosque. Very beautiful, well worth the effort of seeing.
After that we went to the main Karakol market, where the stalls are largely made out of old metal containers. A very lively place where we bought some salted almonds and pistachios and where I posed for my two-melons photo, whilst outside the meat market we see a decapitated horse's head.
After another good night's sleep, it is time for breakfast, where we se the same couple who were there the day before. Time to be sociable, it turns out that the one is Italian and the other Indian, both working in Kabul. They are going to Bishkek and are wondering whether to take the north or the south route. We persuade them to take the south shore and rather cheekily wonder if they wouldn't mind giving us a lift in their Toyota Land Cruiser.
So off we go and we have a very interesting journey with our new travel companions and on the way to Bokonbaevo we stop off at Jeti-Ögüz, on the shores of Issyk-Kul for a quick swim and then to the sandstone fairy castles of Skazka.
At the CBT office in Bokonbaevo, which is housed in a yurt on the side of the road, Fred decides that he wants to stay at Clara's Guesthouse, which is quite handy as that is just around the corner. The food serves by Mrs Clara is delicious and includes bread and raspberry and black currant jams, tea and a dish of potatoes, tomatoes, peppers and bits of mutton. Very very tasty. The Kyrgyz jams are amazing.
Before we go out for an evening stroll around town we are asked to join the family for a small prayer, which we are happy enough to do, until we see a sheep being brought along into the porch, ready for slaughter... time to be going. Ramadan has just ended and they seem to miss out on the first celebration of Eid and go straight to the slaughter festival. When we come back, the sheep has been cut up into various pieces and everyone in the family has a sharp knife, working on one or another part of the ex-sheep.
We are thrilled that the Apricot Festival which we had seen advertised in our hotel back in Bishkek is actually taking place in the nearby village of Ton today, the day after we had arrived in Bokonbaevo.
It is a real treat, taking place on a grassy field next to a lovely sandy beach on the shores of Issyk-Kul, views to snow-capped mountains both ahead and behind, a few yurts and stalls set up and a small number of tourists like us including a young Dutch couple, with whom we spend the rest of the day.
We are treated to further renditions of the Black Steed dance, recitations of the Manas myth by some very young children, singing, more dancing, jam making displays, games, a golden eagle display, including the killing and eating of a rabbit and plate loads of food inside the yurts.
On arriving back at Clara's, we are surprised to see the dining room full of people, all guests of Clara, with two places set for Fred and myself. And so began an evening full of toasts where we were encouraged to drink the whole glass of blackcurrant flavoured vodka we were being served. Fred had told Clara we were vegetarian, which was just as well because after we had been served with mutton bouillon, along came the innards and intestines of yesterday's sheep, all grey.