Friday, September 6, 2013

The most beautiful place in the world

We have made a plan with the Polish couple yesterday. We are going together to the mountain lake. We've met them just in front of the tourist information office in Karakol. They also want to go to the mountains. It's a 3 day journey to Ala-keul lake but they want to hurry, they hope to make it in two days. Ilona thinks it's a good idea, the Polish appeal to her and she also is a hurrying person when it comes to trekking the mountains. We have a meeting with Janela, a Kyrgyz girl we also met in front of the tourist office tomorrow. We'll have to cancel.
The Polish are staying in the Karakol Yurt camp in center Karakol and are waking up at 6 to catch up with us. We are going by foot tonight, to the direction of Karakol valley where we will put our tent. We will wake up at 7:30 which is about the time they will make it to our camp.
But it all happened completly differently. We were walking in the night in the direction of the last bus station where our friends from Poland would join us. We didn't see anything anyway so maybe we passed that station allready, who knows. Our plan is to get a little further if possible, to cross into the national park at night. The entrance into the park is paid and it's about 250 soms per person. That's a few days of food. A car stopped. It's going ten kilometers. Because it's night he's going to invite us to his home of course and by chance he's living in a small village inside the national park.
He passes the paid entrance with us and they don't stop us because the guards know the car. It reminds me crossing into Nagorno-Karabakh without passport but with the vice-prime minister of defence of Armenia.

His home is even further our way which buys us a huge amount of time. The guy is cool. His face is rough but shaped by laughter as Ilona says. He lives there with his wife and two daughters. They have a cow, horses, pretty much everything and they are so hopitalable! We eat a wonderful dinner and god knows we need it. Eating before an ascention is crucial for me, I remember how it was important during my ascention to Aragats.
He takes us up the hill from where we can see the whole village. It's beatiful. His dog accompanies us. It's a big dog who still acts as a puppy.
We also drink some vodka. The guy hates to drink too but what can you do, it's tradition. As Kyrgyz usually do, they invite us in and give us a lot of space. We have our own room to sleep in.
Breakfast with the family before ascention
In the morning we wake up at 6. The children go to school. They must walk a lot of time before taking a bus across all Karakol. We eat a giant breakfast. And I am glad for it. Actually, we don't have enough provisions. We have enough for two days, maybe a day and a half. We have bread and Zgushenka, a russian version of the concentrated sweet milk. A whole kilogram of it. It isn't real food but it's enough to give us quick sugar that we need during an ascention.
So yeah, we need that breakfast and I was secretly counting on it.
We thought we will just wait for the Polish longer and text them where we are. The problem is, we realize we don't have any signal. Our best option is to go higher into the mountains, there might be a telephone signal in one of the peaks. There is no going back unless we want to answer questions why we are here without tickets.
We follow a large path slowly climbing into the mountains. A grudzavik stops and takes us another ten kilometers. It's one of the most shaky ride of my life. We ride through rocks, rivers, trees everything. This vehicle is a war tank. Only soviet machines can withstand such terrain.
On the way we pick up two locals. They are going to Ala-Keul lake to take some pictures and measurments, to see if they could turn it into a business. Kyrgyzstan has an enourmous business potential and Kairad isn't the only one who things about it.
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We tell them about our way to Kyrgyzstan through 13 countries. The guys seem impressed.
"Why didn't you go through Uzbekistan? ," asks Jamshy
"Because it's a fucking dictatorship!"
"My friends is Uzbek," says Tinch after a while. But they take it with humour. Everybody hates Uzbekistan in the region but it's a neighbouring country, you will meet an Uzbek eventually.
Climbing the first few meters is easy
We climb towards Ala-Kul lake together. I am glad because I wanted to go to the mountains with the locals. At first, the way is easy, we talk and laugh, we have lunch together at the shelter in about 2800 meters. We have some water, the guys drink Kumus instead. They share their lunch with us so we save some of our food. The last 700 meters are less fun. We start feeling the altitude and the bags feel heavier. The path gets worse. And to complete the coctail, clouds gather in the sky. We are caught in a storm.
We make it to the saddle in a snowstorm. It's freezing. I find the two Kyrgyz guys hidden and frozen behind a big stone.
"We're frozen and tired! We are turning back!"
I'd rather advise them to camp. I go into the valley to build our tent. When I'm back, they are gone. Ilona has made it to the top, meanwhile. The sight is fucking beautiful, in spite of the storm. The enormous lake of azuere crystal clear water appears in front of us. It is unreal, it is unreal. You haven't seen beauty before you have seen Kyrgyzstan.
But it's cold and it's getting colder. The wind is harsh on the top but we can stand it in the valley. It's not even 3 PM and it already feels like night. We build the tent and jump into it. And sleep. The weather gets better around 6 PM. The lake is beautiful and huge. And what is unreal, we have the whole lake for ourselves. There is no one there. It's not the easiest thing to get to here and many people must have abandonned the ascention because of the storm. But since we don't have weather forecast we didn't know about it. This is huge.
Waking up at Ala-Keul lake
Next morning I wake up at six. I want to climb this 4000m next to the lake. There are two high mountains just glued to the lake. One of them is 4026m and the other one 4271. I choose the first one because it seems higher. There is no obvious way up from the lake side and it's a very long way to the other side and god knows how it looks like there. My ascention is harder and a bit more dangerous than aragats. My shoes are starting to decompose, the repairs I made in Iran were gone before I got to 3000. These shoes are a dissapointment, and I thought Salomon was such a good brand!
Therefore, I climb on rocks instead of taking classic paths which are often full of small stones which tear shoes.
I have more confidence in climbing which makes my ascention faster but I have to keep in mind that I am often only one mistake away of hurting myself. So I am still very careful but I think, for someone like me, it's good to climb with someone to regulate the danger. Someone like Nata. Ilona can't do that very well because she is the lonely type, she doesn't want to climb mountains in groups. It's been enough she has gone with us until the lake. She prefers to stay inside the tent. I feel confident because she is pretty close, I think she would hear me if something goes wrong. It's around 7, the sun goes up while I climb.
The sun goes up when I climb
Looking up at the lake in the morning

Little do I know Ilona isn't wathing that closely. Her main concern now is that she wants to pee. Very worried about her privacy, she wonders where to hide when I have a full view of the landscape from 4000 meters of altitude. So she climbs, maybe she'll get higher. She reaches the top of the first mountain which hides another. And another. And another. That is how Ilona reached 4271 meters because she wanted to pee. She's not an alpinist, she's not reckless, she's just a normal person who climbed a mountain. It reminds me of my friends in France who organised a trip to climb a 4000 in Marocco with a budget of 600 euros per person, donkeys to curry luggage and a guide. It was an easy climb and it makes me sad how far we can get from reality. Of course it is good to be careful but you should still keep at least one foot on the ground.
At the top, there is a guitar. The view from there is the one you can buy at the postcard in the tourist office.
Ilona's Everest

On the small paper, a small commercial for our website
I reach the top, 4026. So I climbed the smaller mountain. Damn. But it doesn't matter. I can see Karakol from one side, the lake from the other. I actually have the same sight expected of mount Damavand in Iran. I don't regret not climbing it now.
At the top! 4026!
I cannot go down, at least not if I want to keep my shoes. I must continue on the mountain range around the lake. It's about five kilometers crossing mountain tops at hights arount 3800. From every step I take I see the lake. It is amazing. I can't stop taking pictures. Some say you spoil the moment, the view, by taking too many pictures. You postpone it for later. But this is so beautiful that you just can't spoil anything. Forget any other touristic place, go to Kyrgyzstan, go to Ala-keul lake if you want to see something cool.
The place gets more beautiful by the meter

Lake and mountains
I cross slowly, I get tired. I have to climb all the time, it's not easy and I have to be careful about my every move. Ilona probably can't see me anymore so more reason not to be dumb. I don't know if I wish to share the feeling with someone, maybe.

I end up crossing to the other side of the lake. The sight gets even more beautiful. I can go down at last. But I can't go back, there is no path, cliffs end up in the lake. I am really tired now but I have no choice I have to return through the other side, the terrain looks nicer.
I cross a river of frozen water. It's water from a glacier and it feels like anaesthesia. There is a small path going through the other side. Sometimes it stops, sometimes it appears again, sometimes I have to climb. I walk like a grandpa but I still climb decently when needed. So many beautiful places, it's a shape I am hurrying, each place should serve as a camp for at least one day. But it's already 3PM and Ilona must be worrying. Actually, she is still at the top, just started going down but how would I know that?
Other side of the lake
I meet some french. They have come here with top gear and a guide. Why am I not surprised? I look funny compared to them, in my torn pants, shirt and Nata's hat which is too small for me. I make it to base camp at about 5PM. Ilona's sleeping in the tent. We exchange stories. I am glad she didn't get bored to death but I find it kind of stupid that we have climbed two different high mountains, each of us alone but starting from the same base camp."I can't stand the thought of slowing someone down," she says, "I can only climb alone, there is no other way"
I also learn that she did the ascention without eating for the whole day and without drin king too. I had the last bits of our georgian honey and our bread and was quite glad to eat it from time to time. But the pope has declared one day of fast because of some stuff happening in Syria and Ilona has decided to follow it. Shame she had to climb a high mountain today. But she did and safely came back, that's all that matters.
That night, she gets sick. She has given out too much of effort without propper training beforehand.
I try to make tea but it's hard in these conditions. There is no wood except my walking stick which doesn't burn because the temperature is getting very low. We've isolated the ground of our tent with a survival blanket and are using Theo's sleeping bag as a spare blanket. The wood doesn't burn. Actually, the only thing that burns is my mosquito spray. I try to light the fire buy spraying the burning grass with mosquito spray. Some wood burns but everything quickly dies. We go to sleep without tea.
Two locals pitch our tent next to ours. They're very happy because we speak russian. They don't have a gas burner though.
We go to sleep. I sleep well, Ilona doesn't. She is sick because of the effort, she has fever. Some Polish guys are camping on the other side of the lake. We're not alone anymore. I ask them to make tea, they help me and give me some electrolytes for Ilona. We don't have any bread. We don't have any food except for the Zgushenka sweet milk which might be good for some quick sugar but is pretty much useless to calm hunger. Fortunately, next to our tent, there is a frozen potato, a carrot and an onion. We eat half of that stuff for breakfast. The frozen potato is disgusting. It's raw and old. I can't believe we are so stupid not to have taken provisions. Now we have to eat that shit!
We still have enough decency not to beg for food but it has crossed my mind. It's our third day now. Ilona isn't feeling well because of too much effort but we must go if we don't want to starve to death. We have to get to a ridge about 3900 meters high and it is the easiest way. My shoes are in a poor state and they will only get worse because of the terrain. And since we've started late, at about 10 AM, we'll spend another hungry night in the mountains with our concentrated milk.
As we go down we see some russians on horses going up. They are members of the national swimming team. The government has given them a trip to Kyrgyzstan all expenses paid because they will get a good condition by getting acclimatization from high mountains. They soon turn back, they can't make it on horses. Ilona says they really can't ride that well. They give us bread and we tell them our story. One of them wants a with us. At that moment, I don't appreciate the irony of the situation. These are stars who we see on TV, they might make it to the Olympic games; people ask for their autographs and whatnot and they want a photo with me. I don't even ask a photo with them. I just eat bread happilly while they take a picture with pieces of bread between my teeth. Tasty!
People from the russian swimming team on horses
We meet two Czech people on the way. They're also going up. They tell us we can make it to the hot springs of Arashan. There are people there and food also. They give us a chocolate bought in czech republic and "venecky", typical czech candy. A taste of home, so far away!
We descend to Arashan with the swimming team who abandonned their ascend. They keep losing and finding again members of their expedition. In Arashan we meet the germans. They are Clark and Miriam and they are smiley as sunshine. Miri even has the hair to complete the picture.
They've pitched their tent there and are travelling with two french accross Kyrgyzstan. I like them a lot. They are fun, easy to talk to. I'm a little surprosed when Clark turns out to be 20 and Miri is 19!
They are full of energy and beautiful spirit. The type of people you feel confortable with at the first glance, the type you don't need to censor yourself. Clark is living in Berlin, he's studying because it's an OK way to spent time and he obviously like to wander in unlikely places like Kyrgyz.
They are spontaneous. Both of them but Miri especially. I should have written her quotes, she's like a book of naive sentences full of wonder.
Something like: "Look at them horses, they are so maaaagic!". Imagine the number of horses in Kyrgyzstan.
Don't get me wrong, she's smart; they both are. They have an amazing chermistry, a situating pretty much reminding the one of me and Ilona. They are not a couple yet travelling together and have a great communication or so Clark says.
Clark and Miri
The tent next to us belongs to locals. Some Kyrgyz from Bishkek. They don't speak english for the most part but one of them, a girl comes to us. We talk about travelling, people, Kyrgyzstan, bridenapping. It's a subject on which opinions diverge a lot. According to some,it doesn't exist, to others it's a common practice."Out of my 12 friends, 10 of them were kidnapped by their current husbands"
She's 26, not married which is very uncommon for Kyrgyzstan. On the other hand, unmarried women have very interesting stories to tell. She comes from an even more unusual family with separated parents. She has lots of things to hide. When we share scary stories arount the fire, each of us tells one except her. But I bet if we heard hers we couldn't compete.
The fire doesn't warm too much the cold night. We go to sleep.
In the morning, the french bring breakfest.

"French people again. Annoying rich self-centered idiots," we thought with Ilona. Unfortunately until today, the part of the french population that we met on the way fell a lot into that category. But these two were allright. A couple, travelling together towards China. I liked them too.
We go to the hot springs, the local girl shows us the way. This is beautiful. A tank of warm water is suspended over a mountain river in the middle of cliffs. I thought I saw the most romantic place on the planet several times; well, this one sets the new record. Best to be tasted under the stars.
Last time I went to the hot springs (not counting Kairad and guys from ananyevo because that was a resort) it was with Nata in georgia. I was going for my swimming suit this time because this isn't rainbow anymore. Wrong. Clark and Miri are as rainbow as it can get so we jump naked into the cold river and then climb into the hot spring. We repeat the process several times.
Miri in the hot springs
We spend there an eternity, I even have time to shave with Nata's shampoo she forgot in my bag. Then, we have to go. I join Ilona at our camp, we say hello to the germans and we continue towards Ak-Suu, a village near Karakol where we'll hitchhike towards Karakol.
All in hot springs
We convince the Kyrgyz girl to hitchhike with us if her bus doesn't come before we catch a car. Unfortunately, it comes as soon as we reach the bus station. Shame but then again, our schedule is filled with other interesting futures. We are meeting Janelle tomorrow.
Tonight we just go eat something in a fast food restaurant where we meet some guys who first want to kidnap Ilona but then pay for our tea and fries, give me a watch; a policemen wants to find me some marihuana to smoke and hosts us in his garden full of super tasty pears, apples and apricots. That's it.
This is how we went to the mountains in Kyrgyzstan.