So at this point I guess I should mention who I was traveling with. It was a Scottish couple named Annie and Steve, as well as two Kiwi guys, Henry and David, five us total. Our next destination was a few hours away, a little village at the foot of the mountains named Arslanbob. As well as having a name that sounds like its from a cartoon show, it also has the world’s largest walnut forest.
We arrived and checked in with the CBT (community based tourism) office to find a homestay. Kyrgyzstan is surprisingly well set up for travelers with these offices in any remotely touristy area. The people working there speak English and can arrange homestays, guides, transport, whatever you need. So we picked a homestay and they drove us up the rocky road to find it. It was surprisingly nice; comfortable beds and a pretty outdoor seating area for tea and meals. Our host greeted us and brought out a spread of bread, jams, nuts, chocolates, and tea. Not bad!
For the afternoon we checked out the infamous walnut forest. Sadly it is really not that interesting. It looks, well, like a normal forest. Walnut season doesn’t happen until October. And you can’t go off the road because all the trees are on private property. We know this because we tried and we were yelled at. We were told in a heavy accent “owner will punch you in face!” Fair enough. There is also a waterfall in town to take a look at where some lady was trying to get us to dance with her. And that was about all for Arslanbob. It’s a very pleasant place, but there really isn’t that much to do! I guess there are some multi-day hikes, but were saving our hiking towards later on in the trip. We decided to leave the next day and head to the alpine lake of Song-Kul.
We organized another shared taxi to leave at 8am the following morning. As the crow flies, Song Kul isn’t particularly far away, but due to the mountainous terrain and lack of good roads, it would be a very long day of driving. We actually ended up sleeping in a small village a few hours short of the lake and got there the day after. The Kiwi’s and I decided to take horses to the lake (you just organize the horses and the guide in the village outside the lake) and the Scots decided that they would hike in, which is a good 7 or 8 hour, mostly uphill affair.
We arrived on horseback in the later afternoon, and I could not believe how sore I was after 6 hours on the damn horse. Long horseback rides are just not for me. An hour or two, fine, but anything longer than that, no thanks! There is just way too much up and down movement when they trot, with your butt (among other things for guys) just banging on that rock hard saddle. It felt like by ass was bruised down to the bone. Not fun.
But back to the lake! It’s gorgeous. Not just the lake, but the whole area. Rolling green hills, meandering streams, nomads and yurt camps, cows and goats grazing, kids riding around on horses, white capped mountains in the background. It really is a beautiful place. Idyllic Kyrgyzstan. We settled in our yurt, which just had some thick mattress pads, blankets, and pillows, and that was about it. Oh and light bulb powered by a car battery. As it got dark there was still no sign of Annie and Steve, uh oh!
The next day the Kiwi’s were heading out, so I just had them take my horse, that way I could hike out the next day. There was no way I was riding another 6 hours on horseback, not happening. That afternoon Annie and Steve finally came bumbling into the camp. They ended up getting a bit lost on the unmarked trails and stayed the night in one the few homes in the hills outside of the lake. They said the family was super nice and it turned out being a great night, so things worked out pretty well! Then we had all afternoon to hang around the camp, play with the kids, hike around the hills, go for a swim in the freezing water, and max out some meat and potatoes for dinner.
The following day I hiked out to the village, glad to be on foot once again. The Scots were sticking around for one more night, so we said our goodbyes that morning. From the small village it was two hours to the next big town and there was no public transportation, so I decided to give hitchhiking a try. And I was picked up by the first car that passed! It was two guys about my age. They spoke very little English, but we got on well enough, and they dropped me off in Kochkor. Too easy! Next I would try and catch up with the Greg and David at the biggest tourist destination in Kyrgyzstan: Lake Issyk Kul.