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July in Kyrgyzstan's Summer Pastures

Along with Margo and Dave, we organized a taxi to Song Kol Lake. About 150km from Naryn, in Central Kyrgyzstan, it is a favourite spot for herders and shepherds. They transport their livestock along with their yurts and set up camp for the summer months while their herds enjoy the lush, green mountains. It also seems to be a favourite spot for travellers, who like the idea of spending time in a yurt surrounded by beautiful scenery. We avoided organizing anything in town (overpriced), assuming that we would easily find a place to stay once we arrived at the lake. This turned out to be a wise decision, with yurts scattered all over the hills. We were carrying our full packs, so the walk to the yurts that we had spotted in the distance seemed to take longer than we had hoped. A young horseman came to greet us and quietly walked along side us as we trekked along. We happened to have picked a yurt affiliated with tour groups, so they wanted to charge us some ridiculous amount for a place to sleep on the yurt floor. After some discussion we got the price down. Dave had his own tent, so Margo, Yann and I shared the floor of a big empty yurt. The rest of the day consisted of lying outside in the sun. We were offered a dinner of fried fish (fresh from the lake) and boiled potatoes for about 0.50$ which we obviously did not turn down. We coated the boiled potatoes with thick fresh cream, straight from the cows, or maybe from the goats. This was what we had come for, the quiet, solitary, outdoor summer life of the Kyrgyz shepherds. We spent two nights in the yurt, not really doing much during the day. We watched the daily activities: killing and gutting a sheep, drying yogurt balls, salting sheep hides, drinking tea (and vodka) and bringing in the sheep at sunset. Margo and I attempted to swim in the freezing lake, Margo made it in, I made it up to my waist (we now understood why the kids wouldn't come swimming with us). In the afternoon scary storm clouds started creeping over the mountains, and it rained all evening and all night. The yurt is coated with sheep fat for waterproofing and there were only a few leaks, so we managed to sleep despite the cold and rain. On the next morning we loaded up our bags and began our walk along the south shore of the lake. We were trying to get to the main road so that we could hitch a ride back to town (at a reasonable price). Unfortunately, there is not a lot of traffic to and from the lake, and if you are pressed for time it's easy to be held hostage by the locals who attempt to charge about 100$ for the ride into town. It had been quite a while since we had done any serious walking, and after about three hours I was getting pretty grumpy (because I am lazy). We made it to another yurt camp just as rain started pouring down. We were greeted by Toumcul, a sweet 14 year-old girl who spoke some English and seemed to be running the camp along with her two younger sisters (12 and 5 years old). In the afternoon we got a visit in our tent from Isbek, a big, drunk Kyrgyz man with an unopened bottle of vodka to share with us. Margo and I attempted to turn down the shot glasses, but Isbek would have nothing of it. Thus began the toasting to "Kyrgyzstan OY!", "Canada and Golandia" (note, Golandia is the Kyrgyz word for Holland, which we attempted to correct for about an hour before giving up and toasting to Golandia ourselves). Yann carried the weight for both Margo and I and drank Isbek under the table (in all fairness, Isbek was pretty hammered to begin with). After one bottle was finished, Isbek called for more to be brought in, I hid them under the sheets of my bed, Isbek fell asleep at the table and was escorted to bed. For dinner, fried fish was on the menu once again. I was sad to find the three sisters sitting on the floor of their trailer preparing our dinner. After serving us they also fed and brought in the animals. I watched the youngest girl, Meerim, struggle to the trailer with a heavy kettle of water. The only time we saw any adults was the next day when they came to collect the money from us. Once she was a little bit relaxed, Meerim was glued to us. She spent all evening in our yurt playing with Yann who granted her all the attention that she desired. The two older girls continued with chores (although we did get a singing concert from the three of them, complete with dance routines, beyond adorable). The next morning, cheerful Isbek, now sober, wasn't so cheerful when we started trying to negotiate prices for a drive into town (it was still pouring rain). We got him down to half his initial offer, which was still way to high. We raced down from the mountains to the sound of Isbek's cries of "Kyrgyzstan OY!" everytime he rammed too hard into pot holes.

2 comments:

Super-Mario said...

Bonjour

Très bon blogue, il me semble que les enfants ont une responsabilité familiale importante. Une jeune fille de 14 ans qui est en charge de la famille est impressionnant.

À bientôt

Papa

2par4 said...

98 blog entries, 4,000+ (on-line) photos, 321 days of travel and still going strong. Impressive. If the Duracell bunny ever retires, you should apply. ;-)