Kyrgyzstan #2

19 Jul

The Adventures of the Chocolate Covered Goldfish – Part 2: The Fairy Canyon

A guest blog by Patrick

We awoke the next morning to find breakfast waiting for us in the hotel dungeon dining room, where we were only slightly distracted by the Russian sex pop music videos blasting from the television in the corner. We laughed a ton and survived the dangerous cherry pit jelly before deciding to do 20 minutes of exercise in the hotel courtyard. #notquiteexfurcise We had an efficient, effective, and somewhat extreme planning session (you know, because we didn’t really know where we were or what there was to do) that led to us booking a yurt-building workshop (when in Kyrgyzstan) and horseback ride out of Bokonbayevo, which was located about 130 km West on the Southern edge of Issyk Kul. We packed up our belongings (including our bounty of chocolate-covered goldfish) and tried to hurry to set off. As Sammi later put it, “We rushed with our words.”


This school is ready for an adventure!


Before leaving Karakol we wanted to stock up on supplies for the day, because we hoped to visit the remote Skaska Canyon along the way and weren’t sure when we’d reach our final destination. We arrived at the market and immediately bought some local apples and plums. I stumbled upon a stall selling about 20 different types of what appeared to be salads, and was overly excited because we were both jones-ing for some vegetables. Sammi joined me and we started to motion to see if we could try one of the options. The woman behind the counter laughed and responded in perfect English, and 8 minutes later we had tried cow lung salad and pig stomach medley and were weighed down with 8 giant bags of every type of vegetable and mushroom salad you could imagine. In hindsight, we should have seen it coming. Of course we were going to buy too much! In our defense, we did actually ask for less salad but the lady insisted that “This is the smallest portion I can sell it in.” The salads posed a conundrum: how were we going to eat them? Was the trip getting hard? False alarm. The stall next to us had a fork and spoon set, complete with non-sharp tips to protect the plastic bags we were eating out of, for the meager price of 10 cents. Heavily-laden with healthy food and prepared to eat it, we returned to our hotel to begin our journey.


Smalled up. Kind of.


We both ended up seeking the advice of an intense Russian man who acted as the travel agent at our hotel with regards of the best way to get to Bokonbayevo via Skaska Canyon. “Are you millionaires?” he joked after I asked how much it was to charter a private taxi. Public was much cheaper, and after some minor confusion about what the numbers on the marushkas actually meant, we finally found the taxi stand and opted for a shared taxi with adorable dressed up girls in the back seat. The scenery along the lake was gorgeous and we talked about travel as we made our way to our first stop.


Is this that Fairy Tale where the best friends die because they can’t find any shade?


We hopped out at Skaska Canyon, known locally as Fairy Tale Canyon, and started the “short hike to the canyon” which turned into a death march. Bogged down by excessive salad and shoes that slowly filled with sand, we trudged our way a few miles into the rolling hills under the midday sun. We made a crucial tactical decision to stash Sammi’s bag, which buoyed our collective spirits and made us feel like Smartbo.


“Let’s take a picture of the bag just in case we forget where it is.”


“Are we there yet?”


Fortunately, it was worth it. The geography was interesting to say the least, and the multitude of layered colors set against the backdrop of the deep blue sky, snow-covered mountains, and alpine lake was spectacular. I’ll let the photos speak for themself.




“Look cool. Literally”


How do you say sunburn in Kyrgyz?


“Have you seen my friend shade?”


We searched far and wide for a nice, shady spot with a view, but were unfortunately denied by the fact that there was indeed no shade. Literally – the only place it could be found was right next to a cliff. We eventually let hunger (and the fact that we could smell our salads cooking in the midday sun) take over and decided to eat on top of a hill with a gorgeous view of the entire scene. It was almost perfect. Quote from my journal: “We suffered through lunch…”

“I found shade!”


Picnic selfie. Not pictured: sunburnt arms and legs.


After taking in the view one last time and posing for some pics, we set off down the hill and stopped at the first shady spot that could accommodate the both of us. We sat down, drank some water, and reflected on how much better it felt to not be baking in the sun. “That picnic really was torture.” We reached into our bag and were overwhelmed to find a special surprise for dessert: somehow we had forgotten about the chocolate-covered goldfish! The fact that the chocolate had melted made the experience of eating way more goldfish than we should have even better – we got to use our plasticware and the delicious clumps chocolatey goodness just melted in our mouths. We laughed until we cried. Then laughed until we cried again. We soaked in the perfect moment until Sammi watched me pick at an ingrown hair and yelled, “That’s disgusting, you’re tamping my tail!”


Open wide…


On the road again.


We reluctantly re-shouldered our packs and headed to the main road to catch a bus. After passing a massive Buddha-like statue of what turned out to be a local millionaire, we disembarked in the little village of Tom where I had picked out a set of yurts right on the shore of the lake to stay in. We had a tiring but beautiful walk, discussing how much you can tell about a place by its dogs before descending upon a local beach. It was a gorgeous sight to take in, so I rushed Sammi straight past it.


Our sneaky approach to the local swimming beach.


“How much walking have we done today?”


The final mile along the shore of Issyk Kul was stunning, and we laughed and played with our shadows as we approached Bel-Tam Yurt Camp. The place felt like an oasis, and we were lucky to find a perfect yurt overlooking the water waiting for us. We bathed in the crystal clear waters of Issyk Kul, which means ‘warm lake’ because it never freezes due to its 0.6% saline content. The water was perfect and the surrounding scenery was amazing. Feeling refreshed, we headed to the main yurt for a delicious family-style dinner on the floor that included heapings of plov, vegetables, pastries, and candy. We learned all about Kyrgyzstan (and Poland) from a Polish UN worker and played a ‘board’ game with the kids before grabbing some stellar local ‘312 Wheat’ beer and settling in for the sunset. We played with an adorable puppy and watched the gorgeous night sky unfold in front of us. There were more satellites in the night sky than we had ever seen, and we saw shooting star after shooting star before heading in for a well-earned night’s sleep.


Another long walk is worth it. #theme


Bel! : )


Board game?


Our (smelly) new friend.


Fairy Tale sunset.


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