Thursday, June 12, 2008

Singing to Song Kul

The minibus leaving Bishkek is slow to fill up. It is the proverbial oven inside, and the sweat is pouring off us. One of the waiting passengers foolishly has 'chut chut' vodka to while away the minutes. It is clearly not his first, and he has the determined countenance of a man intent on prolonging his drunk. He gives it a good shot, so to speak, but by the time we set off, he has removed his shirt and shoes, his fly is down and he's slumped unconscious on the floor in the aisle. Before he passed out we managed to catch his name: Ahmad. For some reason a man seems equally determined to make sure he doesn't just sleep it off. Ignoring the maxim "Let sleeping drunks lie", he shouts at Ahmad, tugs and pulls him up and awake, and shouts some more. Never a quiet moment on a Kyrghyz bus. Five hours later and we stop for a Kymyz break. Kymyz is a drink of fermented mare's milk, and this is the season for it, as thousands of horse herders set up stall beside the road, with yurt or old railway wagon, and flog the foul fizzy milky stuff that tastes a bit like the school milk I had as a child, after it had sat by a radiator for half the day. We all get off to stretch our legs and Ahmad appears looking rather spiffy and quite literally a New Man. Was it the kymyz??He is chirpy and laughing and joking and wants a photo of us all in a group. When we set off, he launches into a folk song that gets some of the older men singing along. It is awful, but kind of entertaining.

a revived Ahmad stands to the left of John (in the silly hat)

At four in the afternoon we are dropped off and start a trek to Kyrghyzstan's second largest lake, Song Kul. There's plenty of light these days and we walk beside a river until about seven thirty when we climb above the path and out of sight, onto a grassy ridge. It's a lovely camping spot, with great views on all sides, and it reminds us yet again what a joy it is to camp out in the wild. The next day we cross fold after fold on the mountainside and hit the track to a high pass that looks down on Song Kul, at 3000 metres. Looking back, the valley we have climbed out of sits far lower, which seems a little odd. The lake is huge, and on the far side the mountains are still topped in snow. We drop down to the lakeshore for another great camp spot, a quick bathe and an early tea, no-one but a few horses and cows to share the place with. In the morning the good weather seems to have gone and we have to shelter in our tent from a thunderstorm almost as soon as we begin our return journey. Thunder and lightning leave me a bit twitchy after the incident in Romania last year, but there are no nasty shocks for us, and the horses nearby continue to graze unperturbed. But the rest of the day continues to produce cold nasty showers that appear suddenly and then melt away just as quickly. Amazingly we end the day dry and in another sunny spot, and despite having forgotten the cheese, the instant mash is still pretty tasty. Ymmmmm. The whole walk has been great therapy for our visa-addled minds. We get up early to catch a bus from a nearby village. It's a sleepy quiet place - not much happening and not many people out. A couple of young lads trot past on their sleek horses. A man in a Lada pulls up to buy petrol out of a jerry can. We're told in the little shop that a bus comes at 9am and, amazingly, we see it trundling towards us, right on time. It stops short to deposit two passengers and then goes straight past us. Charming. We sit around for almost another hour before we finally find a car with space going our way.
We continue the visa therapy with a couple of days on the beach beside Issy Kol, the largest lake here. It is getting hotter every day now and the chance to swim in a freshwater lake is to hard to resist. This is a popular spot for Kazakhs too, but it's early season, and the place is quiet. Regrettably though, it's back to business the next day, as we return yet again to the capital for more embassy frolics........

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