Saturday 30 August
My Song-Kol trek worry may have been resolved. It seems that one of the people on the hike today has booked a two-day one-night hike already, and has a spare place in the car to take them there. This resolves all manner of issues I had, but does mean I’m stuck in Bishkek for an extra day. Need to check if the hostel is available.
It is only a short trek; I was looking at longer; but in the great scheme of things I’m sure I’ll be more than happy with that. The two other times I’ve been in the wilderness (Jordan and Mongolia) it was only a one-night thing too.
Today’s hike was to the nearby Alamedin gorge, with a marshrutka full of people, organised by the Trekking Union of Kyrgyzstan. Mostly Kyrgyz people. With four other Westerners, two of whom live/work in Bishkek. So yes, I did feel a little lost at first, especially as nothing was spoken in English. However one of the expats (a Franco-English lady) was happy to translate for the rest of us (me and three Americans), where necessary. That said, it was a hike, so it’s not as if we needed to follow that many instructions, right?
Apparently we did, mainly for crossing the rivers. There were two; one involved a rickety iron bridge framework – not even solid – that was safest if only two people were on at a time (and weirdly felt a lot more rickety coming back over it in the afternoon than going out in the morning); the other involved crossing a wide ankle-deep stream using stepping stones. As I have no balance, no coordination, and big old boots with no grip, I thought I’d save myself some hassle by slipping off stone one and wading through the stream. Cue a look of disappointment from the tour guide.
I’m not quite sure how long the hike was in total, but it was certainly a couple of hours in either direction, over undulating hillsides alongside a small river. In the distance were always snow-capped mountains; the sky being such a bright blue that it really felt like we were walking through something out of a travel magazine. If this is the scenery only 40km out of Bishkek, the mountains in the heart of the country must be quite spectacular.
Pretty, isn’t it? Apart from maybe the grass.
After we hiked up a steep hill to a nice cooling and shady waterfall, we headed back down to the riverbank to have lunch, and pretty much allowed to wander around for the rest of the afternoon. Two of the Americans headed back early towards the bus as they fancied going to the sanatorium/spa, and a few of the Kyrgyz split off and went their own ways too – so on the way back the group was very widely spread out – all we were told is that we should be back at the minibus around 5pm.
A few of us ventured up to a little nearby cave; a very small hole in the rock where one person could shelter from the heat. It wasn’t much bigger than a spare bedroom in a typical UK townhouse, but I guess somewhere like this it would be all you’d need to rest for a night or two.
It was a fairly relaxing day; it was still very warm but not nearly as scorching as in Bishkek centre, so it wasn’t too much issue to hike. I did run out of water at lunchtime but the spot we lunched at was close to a natural spring – about as pure as you can get in this area, so that was fortunate.
I am drinking a lot of water here; this is mainly due to the hot temperatures, but it helps that it’s only about 25p per litre from the supermarket below the hostel.
On the way back to the minibus, I started to chat with a couple of the locals, who seemed to know reasonably good English. It’s possible I might meet up with a couple of them tomorrow for Independence Day, but they didn’t have easy access to e-mail and I don’t have a Kyrgyz phone number so contacting each other to arrange in the short term would be tricky. But as I say, I at least sorted out my Song-Kol trek.
Back at the hostel, I cooked myself some pasta. My digestive system’s feeling a bit fragile at the moment (and, inconveniently, the hostel’s run out of toilet paper: fortunately I did bring my own, as did some of the others). I know what’s caused it – a combination of heat, lack of sleep, and over-exertion. It happens to be every now and then – it’s just a sign I need to rest more.
Both the Serb and the Canadian have early starts tomorrow – Nened’s going back home, whilst the Canadian’s taking the last available visa-on-arrival flight to Dushanbe – so I’ll have the place to myself for a bit tomorrow morning.