Bob Perry, one of ElderTreks Country Directors, will be blogging from the road as he sets off on an epic 25 days across central Asia as part of ElderTreks The Stans tour. Keep your eyes on the blog as Bob will be posting updates throughout his tour.
Waking up to the noise of a farm and seeing fresh snow on the mountains gave truth to the fact it was only +5 C. But what a glorious morning. A breakfast of yoghurt and bread and away we go en route to Chopon Alta which is on the shores of Lake Issyk-Kul. We are told it's the second highest lake in the world after Lake Titicaca. The lake itself has a level of salinity which prevents it from freezing in winter. An interesting drive from one valley in the Tien Shan mountains, around them to another where the lake is, and the contrast in landscapes. On one side it is green to a certain point and then tall fir trees take over until the snow line. On the other side, nothing but grass. The explanation; one side gets a lot more sun. The grass side that is.
We arrive at Chopon Alta on the lake after visiting a delightful family who teaches us how felt is made. Tough work all the pressing and rolling, but then she invites us in to a lunch of salad and local chicken noodle soup. Bones and all. An abortive visit to the local museum (closed) and then onto this resort on the side of the lake. We are early in the season so apart from a few hardy locals we are the only people at this property. You look out across the lake here to yet another view of the mountains. We are already at 1500 meters above sea level yet these peaks reach 7500 meters. Ok, ok I'm enamoured with the mountains.
Dinner is at the hotel tonight and, whilst you would not call it a culinary extravaganza, it was certainly passable. Something similar to perogies. The weather is still cool and overcast but it doesn't seem to stop the humour of the group. We wake up to blue skies and cool winds, a 7:00am breakfast, then on to Karakol. En-route visiting the petroglyphs, 8th century BC, scratched onto boulders left by the last ice age. Karakol is not what you would call a hive of activity but it is "Victory Day", the 9th May (WWII), and along comes a parade. It starts with a group of young men looking very serious and stamping the beat for everyone else to follow. The age of the marchers decreases until we are looking at kindergarten kids decked out in their finest to celebrate the day. Hey what school kid didn't like a day off? After this unscheduled activity we visit the Preshevalsky Museum. One tough guy. He did 4 expeditions into central Asia in the late 1800's, all trying to visit Tibet. The only time he made it they refused him entry. He didn't have the right visa! Only kidding, but yes, they did refuse him entry. What a bummer!! It takes two years to get to the border and then "sorry you should have used CIBT". (For those that don't know CIBT, it is the visa service ElderTreks recommends in Canada and its partner ZVS in the US.)
Lunch (are you getting the small impression that as a group, all we do is eat?) is in a busy local restaurant then a stroll to the local market which takes all of 10 minutes. We do however discover the "Gold" street across the road. What's that reality show, "Pawn Kings" or something like that? Anyway here is where the local population comes to hock their rings and jewelry for it then to be on sale. No bargains though. I looked at some earrings and they were $500. On the way back to the hotel we stop at a Muslim cemetery which looks like a small village. Then, as we are running late, straight to a local restaurant (food again) for a fish dinner that is supposed to be like salmon. Well... it was good, don't get me wrong, but it was not salmon.
We awake again to bright sunshine, good weather for our ride to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan via the Burana Tower. This thing is 40 meters high but they lost 20 due to an earthquake and we, the 4 fools that we are, decide to climb it inside. Challenging it is, almost vertical steps, and when we get to the top Roger (our Tour Leader) tells us we are the first ElderTreks clients to do it. I'm proud to say of the 4, 2 are ElderTreks staff, but the view was worth it. This on top of a lunch (yes food again) of a beef stew served in a "yurt". Absolutely delicious, cooked and served by the staff of the local museum to get extra $$. Then onto Bishkek.
Tomorrow we hike (need it to get rid of the food).