Karakol to Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan

Distance: 0 miles
Time on bikes: 0 hours

We start the day by heading into town to find out some information about trekking in the local mountains. It seems that the hotel we’re staying in is popular with trekkers, but none seem friendly enough to ask what we should do.

We stop by a small shop to get some nibbles for breakfast; a few biscuits, some pastries on the counter and a yoghurt. We walk down the road with our little breakfast and Béné notices the pastries are a little ‘off’. Despite already eating a few, we decide to bin the rest and hope we’re not going to be hit with a bout of food poisoning. We try the yoghurt next, but again this is either made of horse milk or is seriously off. The biscuits were good though.

We find the tourist information and pop in to see what the score is. Two Japanese girls are there with a couple of guides and are about to head off on a three day trek via the lake Ala Kol, up in the mountains. This is what we’d like to do and we ask how we go about arranging it. The route on the map looks quite straight forward, but the lady in tourist information and one of the guides tells us we’ll need a guide to get around. We’d also need to carry a tent as there is no accommodation on the first night in the hills.

The cost for a guide and porter is about 9,000 Som for three days, which to begin with we thought was about £30, but later realised it’s actually about £128. Also, we won’t be able to leave until 8 am tomorrow morning so will have to fill the rest of the day looking around Karakol. Carl makes a makeshift map from the lonely planet pdf on the computer and we set out to investigate the sights in town – the Chinese mosque, the cathedral and also the post office which has internet access. We begin however with a visit to a company called Yak Tours as they’re just around the corner for the hotel and we may be able to hire a back pack from them, which would mean we can carry the tent and save us some cash for paying a porter.

We find Yak Tours no problem and a young girl is very helpful when we arrive and offers to call her father, Valentin, who runs the place. About 10 seconds after she disappears, Valentin appears through the doors to the courtyard where we’re sat and he comes over to say hello, just as his phone starts to ring with his daughter on the phone telling him he may have some new customers.

We explain that we’re in town for a few days and are keen to do some trekking in the mountains. He tells us we’re in luck as he heading up to his lodge in thirty minutes and there’s space in the van for us. He tells us we can use his lodge as a base and go trekking for there. His advice is somewhat more casual than the guides and he tells us the trails are quite navigable and we’ll be fine. Our only problem is that we need to get back to the hotel and throw our things together for three days of walking.

The first task is to try and explain to the girl at reception that we would like to change the room booking from tonight to Thursday night. As there is no common language, we use a pen and paper and hand signals and we soon seem to have an understanding. Now we can try to get packed. We need to unpack all the camping kit to get the hiking kit out, and at the same time pack our remaining bags to leave with the hotel. We have to pay a small fee to leave the bikes in the courtyard, but this is only about £1.50 for everything for three days.

We’re soon ready and have walking boots donned together with our small backpacks bulging with waterproofs, spare clothes, some bread and a litre bottle of water with only about 100ml left in. We also have our sleeping bags as we’ve no idea what we’re heading up to and also the water filter, which we’ve yet use and was a leaving present from Carl’s work. It’s not long before the chap arrives with the van to collect us and we jump in. It’s an old Russian four wheel drive van and has eight of us in, plus provisions for Valintin’s lodge.

We drive out of Karakol for about twenty minutes until the turn off up the valley to Altyn Arashan. The drive up is quite unbelievable. We’d asked about whether the track would be passable with the bikes but had been told by everyone that it would be impossible. We’re glad we took their advice; both us and the bikes would have been absolutely wrecked by the time we got to the top, about twelve miles later. It was fantastic in the little van though. The terrain was all over the place and the van crawled, bounced, scrabbled and crashed over rocks all the way up. Carl was grinning from ear to ear for the whole journey. How this little van survives this daily thrashing is quite incredible.

We arrive at Valentin’s lodge in Altyn Arashan about 3 pm and meet three Dutch guys that had walked up the trail we’d just come up in the van. We have a chat and then head out for a short walk along the valley for a few hours to see a bit of the scenery. The three guys are really good company and it’s surreal to be able to speak with fluent English speakers in this distant part of the world.

We get back to the lodge at about 6 pm and then head up the track with one of the Dutch guys to investigate the local hot springs. It costs about £1.20 each, plus a beer for about 90 p and we get the key to hut number two. We’d been told by Valentin to negotiate the price and we think we succeed, but none of us are too bothered about saving a pound or so. Especially as the tourist business has really suffered in Kyrgyzstan this year.

We quickly get down to the hut and get ready to try the hot pool. We begin by dipping our toes in and we all can’t believe the temperature – it feels like someone has boiled a kettle and poured the water into the concrete basin we’re trying to lower ourselves into. After about five minutes, we’ve only got up to our thighs and decide we may need to take a little dip in the river which is only a few metres away. The water feels like it’s scalding us and we’re wondering what curative properties it can have, apart from killing anything because of the temperature. We dip our legs in the freezing water of the river and just as we’re heading back to the shed, a local comes out of another shed and just gets straight into the river – bollock naked. Maybe we’re just being pussies.

We head back to the shed and we find it a bit easier to get in the hot pool as our nerves have been slightly numbed because of the cold river water. We think we’ve found out what we need to do, and it takes another trip to the river for a full submersion to be able to get fully into the hot pool. Even though we’re completely in the hot water now, we couldn’t regard it as relaxing as after a few minutes you really feel like you’re being cooked.

After about thirty minutes we call it a day and head back to the lodge for dinner with the rest of the group and have a good chat. We also meet a Thai chap who’s doing a cycling trip of the silk route and has been on the go for months. It makes our trip look a bit easy, but again slightly more hassle with the logistics of moving the bikes around. At about 9 pm we all turn in for an early night and ready for a good walk tomorrow.

Jour 114 – Mardi 10 Aout 2010. De Karakol a Altyn Arashan, Kyrgyzstan

Distance: 0 km – Temps a moto: 0 heures

Nous commencons la journee par un tour en ville pour acheter de quoi dejeuner et trouver des informations sur les possibilities de marche en montagne dans le coin. Il semble y avoir d’autres marcheurs dans l’hotel, mais ils n’ont pas l’air tres bavards.

Nous achetons quelques biscuits a la crème et d’autres au chocolat et un yaourt, mais alors que nous les mangeons, nous remarquons que celles a la crème sont un peu….vieilles et commencent a moisir, ensuite le yaourt etait aussi perime, heureusement que les biscuits au chocolat sont bons!

Nous passons a l’office du tourisme ou il y a deux jeunes japonaises qui sont sur le point de partir marcher avec un guide et un porteur pour une marche de trios jours vers le lac Ala Kol. Nous nous renseignons pour faire la meme chose, car apparement iul faut prendre un guide, mais il n’est pas possible de le faire en partant le jour meme, il faut reserver le guide en avance. Nous aurions aussi besion de louer un sac a dos pour porter la tente. Le cout d’un guide et un porteur est de 9000 som, ce que nous pensons etre 30 euros, mais c’etait une erreur de calcul, et c’etait en fait 130 euros. Nous decidons de le reserver et de profiter de la journee pour profiter de Karakol. Carl dessine une carte de Karakol en utilisant le guide que nous avons sur l’ordinateur et nous commencons par passer chez un organisateur de marches en montagne, Yack tour. Quand nous arrivons, une jeune nous demande d’attendre quelques minutes, et elle apelle son pere, Valentin, qui arrive a ce moment la. Il viens se presenter et il parle un bon anglais, il doit avoir entre 50 et 60 ans et semble bien organise, il nous dit qu’il a un minibus qui pars dans 30 minutes, et qu’il y a de la place dedans si ca nous interesse. Il nous emmenerai a Altyn Arashan, vers 2600 metres ou il a un chalet ou nous pouvons dormer et manger, et d’ou nous pouvons faire des marches et que nous n’avons pas besoin de guide.

Nous sommes bien contents de cette option et retournons rapidement a l’hotel pour essayer de prendre ce qu’il nous faut. Il nous faut aussi voir avec l’hotel si nous pouvons y laisser les motos et nos sacs pour 2 jours. Heureusement, malgres la difficulte de la langue nous arrivons a nous faire comprendre et après avoir fait nos sacs, mis nos sacs de couchages, nos affaires de marche et K-Ways dedans nous sommes prets a partir. Nous n’avons pas d’eau, mais Carl a son fitlre a eau et il dervai y avour assez a manger au refuge.

Un gars arrive au portail alors que nous avons Presque fini de faire nos sacs et nous indique qu’il est le chauffeur a Valentin et qu’il nous attend. C’est une vieille camionette russe, nos sommes 8 et il y a pas mal de parquets de vivres pour le refuge. Le sentier est en tres mauvais etat, et nous sommes secoues comme des prunniers pendant pres d’une heure trente pour faire 20 km. Nous sommes bien contents de ne pas avoir essaye de monter a moto car c’est une route tres mauvaise. Nous passons un marcheur et Valentin lui offer de prendre son sac pour qu’il le recupere en haut. La camionette ne semble pas souffrir du trajet, et le chauffeur nous dit qu’il fait des fois cette route 3 fois par jour aller-retour…

Quand nous arrivons au refuge il y a 3 hollandais qui sont la et nous les joignons pour faire une petite marche dans la vallee. Ils sont montes a pieds et ca leur a pris 5 heures. C’est agreable de pouvoir discuter en Anglais avec des gens qui parlent la langue si bien, a part Fabian, ca faisait longtemps qu’on n’avait pas eu de discution si facile. Ils sont un groupe de copin qui aiment faire des vacances decouvertes et qui heureusement ne se sont pas laisse decourager par les problems politiques du pays.

Nous sommes de retours au refuge vers 6 heures et Valentin nous suggere d’aller faire un tour au refuge qui est un peu plus haut et y essayer les bains de source chaude naturelles, ca ne coute que 1 euro, nous n’hesitons donc pas, et nous sommes 3 a y aller.

Il y a des petits basins prives pres de la riviere ou nous pouvons nous baigner, mais quand nous y mettons les pieds nous sommes bien surprise: l’eau est si chaude que nous avons du mal a y metre les pieds. Nous decidons d’essayer de nous baigner dans la riviere pour voir si ca aide, et en effet, nous arrivons a nous metre dans les bains chauds pour quelques minutes avant d’avoir besoin d’aller nous rafraichir dans la riviere.

Nous sommes bien detendus après pres d’une demie heure de bains chauds/froids et nous retournons au refuge ou Valentin a prepare le dinner. Et nous sommes rejoints pas un Thailandais qui fait la route de la soie a velo et qui est venu a pieds. Il est parti en Janvier…son voyage demande bien plus defforts que le notre!

Nous allons nous coucher vers 9 heures et esperons faire une grande marche le lendemain.