Selamat Hari Raya to all who celebrate! We decided to celebrate by going on a road trip with our new (old) car Sheila the Subaru to Kyrgyzstan. Kyrgyzstan is just over the mountains from Almaty but due to land border closures you have to drive quite some way away to loop back on yourself into Kyrgyzstan. We have been planning and preparing for this trip for a while and it has been a very long time since Asraf and I went on holiday together. Pre covid life. We got to the border fairly easily and were met with a very, very long queue and boiling hot weather. Our car does not have any air con. People were cutting into the queue in their cars and ruining the organisation and British expectations of a queuing system. It was very disappointing and difficult to accept. After 2 hours of queuing I went through the passenger entrance and left Asraf in the car lane. Would we meet up at the other side? Who could say. The Kazakhstan border control were confused by my passport and strangely confused by my visa, which they themselves had issued to me. They had a lot of questions about how I got a visa valid until 2023. They were bewildered by the UK. I’ve come to realise that Central Asian countries generally seem to be. They don’t recognise ‘England’, ‘United Kingdom’, ‘Great Britain’ on any system but if you call yourself ‘Big Britannia’ someone may know where you mean. After eventually being allowed to leave Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan had zero cares at all. Unfortunately I then had to wait for 1.5 hours for Asraf at the side of the road in the baking sun. He had his passport taken away because he had no visa. He didn’t need a visa. Eventually they figured that out and we were off to Bishkek.
We spent one day exploring Bishkek and I would say that is all you need. Coming from Almaty it had very similar vibes but cleaner air and less people. Lots of interesting soviet statues and buildings to look at. It’s surprisingly international and there was a lot more English spoken than we are used to in Kazakhstan.
There are also some really great places to eat. Our favourite was the Thai restaurant Baan Baan because we REALLY, REALLY miss flavour and spice in our food. You can find any kind of food you want in this city.
On Monday we left Bishkek early and set off on our way to Toktogul. We were positive and excited. Asraf was happy because it was Eid and he had a new outfit from Kyrgyzstan. We stopped at a river and had some food and took a photo for his family. All was well.
We then paid the toll to enter the mountain road and set off up the mountain. It was absolutely stunning. Wild horses on the road, incredible mountain scenery, music was playing… Suddenly Asraf swore very loudly which sent me into a wild panic as I realised that he was pressing the accelerator and nothing at all was happening. On a bend. On a mountain road. Surrounded by horses. Our untrusty girl Sheila had a tantrum at the worst time. We got out of the car, me dithering around trying not to panic, Asraf looking under the bonnet, people honking at us. Yes we know we’re in the road we didn’t choose this situation. I started the onorous task of trying to flag someone down. People did stop. Some drove off when they realised we couldn’t speak Russian. Others looked sympathetic. Then, the engine restarted. We carried on for a while, me slightly on edge and Asraf driving in stony silence until she cut out again.
This was the view from our breakdown point. Beautiful but really unaccessible. Two Israeli guys stopped and chatted to us in English. They offered us a lift but we couldn’t just leave Sheila on the mountain. A mechanic came by and told us to go down the mountain back to Bishkek in neutral or first gear. We waited patiently for the engine to start again and then that is what we did. She made it to 1.5km away from our new hotel before breaking down again.
That afternoon was sombre. After the initial shock and ‘let’s just get out of this situation’ wore off we reverted back to our worst selves. Me, highly anxious and PTSD issues. Asraf, angry and frustrated. After a small altercation we became friends again. Unfortunately no one would look at the car that day. With a heavy heart I cancelled our itinerary for the week as we wouldn’t make any of it without making it to the first place.
And so, our trip became less of an adventure and more of a ‘where can we go where our car won’t break down?’ Amazingly we got our car fixed for free by some very kind and generous mechanics in Bishkek. I was on high anxiety alert due to my own safety/death issues and decided we absolutely couldn’t ever go on that mountain road again so we decided to test the car by doing some road trips out of Bishkek. There is actually beautiful scenery and mountains very close to the city which we wouldn’t have experienced had we done our initial plan.
A couple of days later we felt brave enough to drive 2 hours to Chon Kemin National Park. On the way we visited the Burana Tower, the only remaining part of what was once a Silk Road city.
Interesting head stones and historical information. All for free. After that we headed towards the national park via Konorchek Canyon. The hike to the Canyon is 2km from the road. Easy peasy. Not so easy in sinking mud and with water gushing over 3m rocks making the entire thing both a challenge and a chore. I’m sorry to say we didn’t make it all the way there due to the boring reality of ‘safety’. The whole thing was like a really intense game of the ‘The floor is lava’. Such a frustrating situation.
Later that day we arrived at Kemin Guest house for 2 nights. It is in the middle of nowhere but a very beautiful nowhere. The ambience was so peaceful. We hiked and we enjoyed the atmosphere. Everyone was very friendly except the dogs on a neighbouring farm who almost gave me a heart attack.
Kemin Guest House has good food, good hosts and is very clean. There are easy hikes nearby and lots of horse riding. After 2 nights we decided to go back to Almaty a day early since quite honestly the week has been a little exhausting and a little too much problem solving! On the way back we stopped at, and swiftly left, two different border controls before going back to the same one we entered through. It wasn’t as long, phew. On the final stretch of the journey a rogue stone hit our windscreen and chipped it. Just one final punch in the face from our Sheila. Kyrgyzstan is friendly, isolating, beautiful and desolate all at the same time. It’s a country we definitely want to go back to, mainly to do what we went there to do. Asraf and I don’t spend that much time together in reality because we both work different hours so that was my favourite thing about the week.