Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Into the Mountains – Part Three

Our hunger satiated by dried fruit, nuts, and cookies, we started the trek down to the lake accompanied by two French people. Not sure what the general consensus is regarding hiking, but I would say going up is much more enjoyable than going down—especially with a 30 kg backpack. Call me masochistic, but would much preferred to have continued going up.

Word on the street in Bishkek had told us that there were yurt (felt tents) camps up at the lake that we could stay at. If you let your imagination run wild for a second, a yurt camp could be pretty cool. I could see sheep herding, horseback riding, and mutton eating contests as the standard day time activities. Or perhaps kymyz brewing would be on the list.

As we made our way closer to the lake it became all too obvious that what we were approaching was not so much a lake, but a haphazard collection of yurts. Each had at least 200 metres between it and the next one. What a change from city life. We could see smoke coming from a couple and some children running about. Apparently the shepherds were further up the mountain with the grazing sheep.

It wasn’t exactly warm, either. We had a cold night ahead of us unless we could convince a family to let us use one of their yurts. It was right around now that I thanked the Soviet Union for mandating its citizens to learn Russian. Sometimes things are much easier explained than mimed.

After intense negotiations over cream, moldy bread, and kymyz, we got settled into our yurt. We ended up with the standard variety. Round, covered with canvas, insulated with felt, equipped with a stove, a barrel for kymyz, and a radio. Not surprisingly, this is almost exactly what you would find in a Mongolian yurt.

We were literally in the middle of nowhere. No electricity, no mobile coverage, no traffic, no bazaars. Nothing. Just peace and quiet. It is at this time when you ask yourself: what exactly does one do up here if you’re not working the land, herding sheep, cooking, or fishing?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Live from Phnom Penh

The sign says it all.

Independence Monument


Thursday, March 11, 2010

View from the Top

Son Kul (Lake Son)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Into the Mountains – Part Two

The rain never came. In fact, most of the clouds disappeared and we were left with a sunny ascent up the decidedly flatter part of the trek. We passed some farmers loading hay onto a truck. We said “Salam,” they stared back incredulously. Further along, some shepherds passed us on horseback. Each one carried a leather sack of kymyz (fermented mare’s milk) and never hesitated to offer us some. As “delicious” as the stuff is, it is not particularly difficult to decline an invitation for it. Unfortunately, this is often seen as insulting.

We setup camp next to a partially constructed stone dwelling before dark. By all accounts the construction had been stopped long ago. Animals were more likely to call this place home than humans. Dinner consisted of canned corn, sardines, and some pre-packaged trekking concoction. Eating well is a lot more difficult when you have to carry your food in an already full backpack. Imagine that.

The weather was pristine the next morning. Perfect for a 6:30 AM wakeup and 5 hour trek up a mountain. We broke camp and started up the decidedly steeper part of the climb. Switchbacks were the order of the day as we winded our way from ridge to ridge. Near the apex, the wind started to pick up.  Nothing like almost getting blown off the side of a cliff you are skirting. It was a long way down.

Eventually we got all the way to the top, only to find out that it was at least another hour down to the lake. Couldn’t beat the view, though. Standing at 3000 metres, looking down at a flawless mountain lake. Perfect.