Next stop Chile!

October 10th, 2015 No comments

For years people have been asking me why I haven’t visited South America yet, to which I have always replied “I’ll get there one day. There are so many places in the world I want to see” or something similar.

It seems that the time has finally come as I will be jetting off to Chile for 11 days in January 2016. I booked at the end of June, only a few weeks after coming back from Central Asia, but didn’t want to post anything here until my blog from that previous trip was online. It’s a shame I can’t stay longer, due to work commitments, otherwise I would have travelled extensively around Chile or seen other countries in the area, but I know I’ll have a good time regardless.

Route to Chile

The route I will be taking to Chile

I’m not sure what I’ll be seeing when I’m in Chile. Obviously I’ll be seeing Santiago, as that is where my flight goes, but beyond that nothing is definite. There have been suggestions of visiting Valparaíso, Viña del Mar, La Serena and the wineries in the valleys near Santiago but it’ll probably be a little while before anything is set in stone. I will also have to wait until nearer the time to see how the recovery from the recent magnitude 8.4 earthquake and Tsunami progresses before making any commitments to visit the coast.

There will be a lot of flexibility on this trip as I’m travelling on my own to visit a friend, rather than being part of an organised group, so I can see what I want and won’t have to deal with problematic group members. Maybe I’ll visit Punta Arenas or fly up to the Atacama for a few days but maybe I’ll stay close to Santiago, we will see when I get there.

South America is a region of the world that always comes highly recommended by people who like to travel so I’m glad I will finally be able to see part of it for myself. It’ll be very hot in January, but I’ll be fine. I prefer colder weather but after my nights shivering in sub-zero temperatures at Song-Kul Lake in Kyrgyzstan it’ll be nice to go somewhere hot!

I’m in the process of improving upon the Spanish which I learned in school in order to be able to communicate with the Chilean people without having to rely on my friend to translate. In Chile they speak a complicated variety of Spanish so it may not be too easy but I’ll do my best. I’m planning to visit Madrid for a few nights some time before Christmas in order to get some hands-on experience with the language before Chile.


My Uzbekistan & Kyrgyzstan blog is online!

October 10th, 2015 No comments

I’m pleased to announce that my blog from this year’s trip to Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is finally online. As I’ve mentioned a few times before I wrote my blog in note format when I travel, in order to maximise the time in which I’m able to get under the skin of a destination, before typing it up properly and sorting through photos when I get home.

As I’m sure you can imagine this takes longer than if I was to post from the road, or to write in full on the road then type up when I get home, but it works better for me. Normally I’m able to type up my blog within a few weeks, or at most a couple of months, of returning but this time due to various personal reasons it has been 4 months since I returned from my trip.

It’s now too late for anybody to travel to that part of the world this year, as it’ll soon be winter and the area will be blanketed with snow, but hopefully somebody will find this blog useful when trying to decide whether or not they should visit the area in the future.

I have just one word to say in response to people wondering whether they should visit Central Asia – YES!. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The people, the scenery, the fresh air, the culture, the memories are all so amazing. Kyrgyzstan isn’t a place for people who don’t like nature and want to look at sights or get involved with activities, although it does have a couple of ski resorts. Uzbekistan on the other hand isn’t quite so magnificent but has a large number of sights that you could visit. My trip focused on Kyrgyzstan but the entire region is worth a visit.

Here are some photos of highlights of the trip. For many more photos, and full information about the trip, please read my blog entries.

Helena rests

Me and Kyrgyz kids

Lake Issyk-Kul

Yurt camp

Chaek drinks

Walking around Tashkent

Blue Mosque

I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about the trip, the area, the culture, the public transport I somehow survived or indeed anything else related to this and other trips featured on the blog. Just click the “Contact Scott” link in the menu and send me a message. I’m always happy to answer questions or just hear from people who have found the blog useful.

For the benefit of search engines and rankings, since this blog was posted late and in one go, some of the places and sights that we saw were:

  • Uzbekistan
  • Tashkent
  • Kyrgyzstan
  • Silk Route
  • Osh
  • Song-Kul Lake
  • Kockhor
  • Home Stay
  • Yurt Camp
  • Karakol
  • Jeti-Oguz
  • Lake Issyk-Kul
  • Bishkek
  • Fergana Valley
  • Mountains and Lakes
  • Turkey
  • Istanbul
  • Dragoman
  • Central Asia
  • Overland Truck

I hate having to do that list in these posts, but due to the nature of how my blog is posted I have to. However so that I don’t finish the post with a boring list here is a photo of some lovely scenery in Kyrgyzstan.

Fairy Tales do come true :)


Thoughts from Central Asia

July 10th, 2015 No comments

I have been back from Central Asia for a few weeks now and have had some time to think about my time there, look through my photos, and generally process the things that I experienced. I will post a more thorough country overview in the “Country Opinion” section of the site as I always do but first I just want to share some thoughts with you about the trip.

The food in this part of the world was generally nothing special which is why I was glad I was on a Dragoman trip where many of the meals are cooked by the group. This gives us a chance to source local ingredients but to make meals that suit a diverse group of people from all over the world.

Dinner time

Dinner time


Uzbek food

I did personally enjoy the food, such as Camca and Shashlik, and thought it was tasty but I will not be thinking about it for years to come or making any of it myself in the future.

The people in this part of the world were really friendly. Being former Soviet countries, and with not much western tourism, I wasn’t sure what to expect but they were great. Maybe not as open as in Central America or Africa but I had some great experiences interacting with local people.

The main experience which will stand out for many years to come, and which I am still in shock about every time I think about it, is in the Uzbek town of Kolkand. As mentioned in my blog we stopped here for a little while to look around a former palace which is now a museum and while we were there we generated a lot of attention.

A lot of the attention was due to Sam and his blonde dreadlocks – at one point we had several hundred people surrounding us wanting a photo with him which was just incredible. I’ve never seen such interest from people when travelling and we just kept saying things like “what on earth?” and “this is completely crazy” to each other as the numbers kept growing and growing, but the people were really friendly. Now I know how famous celebrities must feel if they travel and people continually ask for photos with them so I’ll never be asking anybody again!

I did personally generate a little bit of interest and had three small groups of people ask if they could take photos with me. I never mind this sort of thing, especially in places that I travel, as they’re doing it to have an excuse to interact with you. I would probably have found Sam’s level of attention overwhelming but the people meant well – Jalal, our local guide in Uzbekistan, said that a lot of the people in the square had travelled down from the valleys due to it being the last day of school and that they wouldn’t have spoken to many westerners before.

Sam's Fan Club

Sam's fan club

The kids I interacted with at Lake Issyk-Kul were adorable too and were so happy just when I made a simple gesture of giving them some printed photos of themselves that I made using my Polaroid Pogo printer. If you like to go on this sort of trip then I would recommend that you invest in one – they are worth their weight in gold for memories like mine has given me.

Me and Kyrgyz kids

Finally I just want to mention something about the scenery in Kyrgyzstan. I can’t really comment on the scenery of Uzbekistan as I was only there a couple of days but the scenery of Kyrgyzstan is so beautiful and divers as to almost be unbelievable.

The scenery is one of the main reasons I went there and I was definitely not disappointed. I couldn’t believe the richness of the colours, the diversity of the landscape and indeed how quickly the scenery changed. One day we went from a beach at the shore of a lake, to red rock which looked like the Badlands of the USA combined with the Red Centre of Australia, and finally to mountains that reminded me of the Alps of Europe. In addition to that there were lush valleys, mountainous regions, farmland, so many rivers. The country is heavily mountainous but there are so many lovely valleys and plains too. Just have a look for yourself at some of my favourite scenery photos below, and the read my blog entries for more.

Kyrgyz lake

Kyrgyz scenery


Lake photo


Kyrgyz scenery


Fresh snow in Kyrgyzstan

Fairy Tales do come true :)

Crossing the river

I had wanted to visit Kyrgyzstan for some time and it was worth every penny, every sleepless night, the sub-zero temperatures at Song-Kul Lake and the long travel days. I would highly recommend a trip here if you love natural beauty – I have never seen such diversity in one small country before.

If you do go then please go on a trip like the one I picked with Dragoman, or alternatively go with one of their competitors, as it really allows you to get under the skin of the country and see so much more than if you travelled around from hotel to hotel by sterile tour bus or train. You could do the area yourself and use public transport, indeed many people do, but group trips like the one I went on combine security and organisation with seeing some amazing off-the-beaten-path locations.

So many experiences, so many memories. I’m not sure if or when I’ll be back but it’s definitely a destination that I would visit again if everything worked out like this time. There are a number of places I want to see first but I thoroughly enjoyed Central Asia, even if I did have to return home a few days early for personal reasons.


A nightmare journey home

June 6th, 2015 No comments

After arriving back in London I think I needed the luck that I wished for in my previous post as the journey was certainly an experience. This is going to be a fairly text-filled post as I didn’t take many photos due to it being a travel day and due to the crazy fellow passengers – sorry about that.

When travelling, especially on trips like this, I plan for the unexpected. That’s why when I was told I wouldn’t need to arrive at Bishkek Airport until 2 hours before my flight I told my hotel the wrong flight time in order to arrive there 3 hours before and I’m glad I did as the first half of the return journey, from arriving at Bishkek airport until transferring in Moscow, was a nightmare.

I arrived at the airport about 3 hours 15 minutes before my flight was due to depart, as they were starting to set up ready for check-in to open, so I ate the on-the-go breakfast which my hotel provided while waiting. By the time I finished eating the check-in desk was open and I joined the queue behind maybe 4 groups, totalling around a dozen people. You would have thought that check-in would have been quick with that few people there but this was not the case. No sooner had I joined the queue but a couple of coaches of Russians arrived all at once and caused chaos. A large number of people decided to just push in because they didn’t want to queue (some used trolleys as battering rams, some picked up children and placed them in the queue so that when they got to the front and started crying the family would join them). During the time it took to get to the front more queues had formed either side of the real one so that people could just barge in. Several of the people who jumped the queue, after being checked in, then proceeded to walk back up the queue to attempt to sell mobile phone sim cards to fellow passengers. I eventually got to the check-in desk over an hour after joining the queue.

Then came the fun of passport control. After completing check-in I proceeded straight to the passport control queue and there were maybe 100-150 people in front of me in the queue. Once again I use the word queue lightly as it quickly turned into one big mass of people all pushing each other out of the way to try to get to the front quicker, which delayed things for everybody. It took so long for the queue to begin to clear that they had to keep calling passengers forward when their flight was boarding. Other than the fact people were pushing in I’m not sure why it took so long to go through passport control as both myself, and a friend I made in the queue who was on the same flight, were processed in less than a minute. We were both stamped with the incorrect exit date but were told that it was not a problem – we didn’t query the officer in case he sent us to the back of the queue.

By the time I made it through security and into the departure lounge my flight was due to board within 10 minutes, despite how early I arrived at the airport. I grabbed some snacks in the shop and then tried to find which gate my flight was due to depart from, but it was not listed on the board. I tried to find some staff members to ask but other than the shop cashier there were no staff to ask. Eventually me and the other passenger walked up and down the departure lounge until our flight appeared on the screens at one of the gates.

About 5 minutes after they started processing people for boarding an announcement was made in Russian which prompted everybody, including the gate staff and passengers who had already been processed, to start rushing to the other end of the terminal. I asked a lady near us what was happening and she told me that the announcement said the buses which were due to take us to the plane had turned up at a different gate and the drivers didn’t want to move. No I’m not kidding!

I eventually made it to my seat, after what seemed like a mission, and found out that I was sat directly behind a large, drunk, loud man whos first act after sitting down was to slam his seat back with such force that be broke it and slammed it into my knees making me jump in pain. Throughout the flight the Aeroflot staff did a brilliant job of trying to control him, and refused to serve him any alcohol, but he proceeded to open a bottle of cognac he had smuggled onto the plane and became even more annoying. He was so drunk by mid-flight that he couldn’t get out of his seat to go to the toilet so tried to call for help. Unfortunately he couldn’t focus enough to work out which was the call button so ended up making some sort of disco effect with the overhead lights of his row until he eventually pressed the correct one and was pulled out of his seat by Aleksei, a very patient flight attendant.

On the way back from the toilet he tried to get back into his seat but couldn’t work out how to so launched himself sideways, headbutted the man in the middle seat, and ended up with one leg over the arm rest and waving into the aisle. A lot of people were getting embarassed by this point, including the elderly Russian lady next to me who started shaking her head muttering various things under her breath.

Throughout the remainder of the flight he kept asking for alcohol and was continually refused. From the little Russian I understood I worked out that after being denied alcohol he just kept asking for Vodka, because apparently that isn’t alcohol, and was then denied this because on Aeroflot only Business Class are served spirits. He wasn’t happy about this so waited for the cabin crew to walk away before getting out of his seat, storming into Business Class and being chased by the cabin crew for a few minutes.

I wish I had made the above story, and the details of my bus ride to Bishkek yesterday, up but unfortunately it is all true. The general response of people who I have told the story to has been utter disbelief, and a lot of open-mouthed shock. I have a feeling that I will be telling this story for many years to come, but for some reason the entire experience didn’t get to me. I sometimes let things get to me in my day-to-day life but when travelling you have to expect crazy things like this. I must admit I wasn’t expecting so may crazy things all in one journey but whether you enjoy travelling to unusual destinations like Kyrgyzstan depends on whether you are able to handle things like this. I did keep thinking “this has to be some sort of test” to myself throughout the journey and maybe in some way it was – I now know that when travelling I can overcome some pretty crazy things!

Moscow Airport

Transiting through Moscow Airport

My transit through Moscow airport and the flight back to London were fairly uneventful. The flight, in comparison to the last one, was luxurious and I had an entire 4-seat row of a Boeing 777 to myself to be able to stretch out and watch TV in.

After arriving back at Heathrow I changed my unused US Dollars back before making my final journey back home. I already know that my next trip will be to Chile, I just don’t know when it will be yet. Either way hopefully my journey will be less eventful. Stay tuned to my blog!


Kyrgyz public transport

June 5th, 2015 No comments

I’m so relieved that I booked myself a nice hotel in Bishkek after the journey that I had today. I’m staying in the Hotel Holiday, which is a nice hotel very close to the main shopping areas, and compared to some places I’ve stayed it’s complete luxury!

Today started with me saying my goodbyes to the group and the leaders before completing the necessary paperwork to sign myself off of the trip. It feels sad to be saying goodbye to some of them, although I’ll be glad to see the back of others, but leaving the trip and coming back early is something that I just have to do. I have seen everything that I wanted to see in the country so I have no regrets and in fact I think I would have been filled regret had I not decided to leave early.

Inside Helena

Inside the truck

Inside Helena

Looking forwards


The driving cab of Helena

Army truck

The truck the others went to the hot springs in

Hotel Amir

The Hotel Amir in Karakol


The road outside the hotel Amir

Hotel room

My room at the Hotel Amir

Goodbye Helena

Saying my final goodbyes to Helena

I stuck around long enough to see the group leave and make their way to the hot springs resort, today’s destination had I remained with the trip, before collecting my belongings from the room and asking the hotel to arrange for a taxi to take me to the bus station. In the grand scheme of things the bus station wasn’t too far away, about a 20 minute walk, but it was hot, I was pressed for time and had a lot to carry so a taxi was the best option. When I arrived at the bus station there was already a bus loading passengers for the journey to Bishkek, although as buses only leave when they are full, it was about 40 minutes before we finally set off which was plenty of time to buy a ticket and supplies from the shop.

People who are used to a western, timetabled, public transport system would have to use their immagination in order to see the vehicle that took me to Bishkek as a bus. In Kyrgyzstan there are three methods available for people to travel around the country by public transport. The first is the local version of National Express / Greyhound which sticks to a vague timetable in large coaches which usually travel between cities overnight. They are safe, and fairly cheap, but the timings didn’t work out for me. At the other end of the scale is the second option – a shared taxi. In every village, town and city in Kyrgyzstan shared taxis follow set routes and will speed to their desination as soon as they are full. They are incredibly cheap, and you never normally have to wait long for one to leave as long as you are going to a large town or city, but they can be unsafe. I decided to go for the middle option – local buses calls Marshrutkas. These are a fleet of minubuses that follow set routes, have a price in the mid-range (although cheap by western standards), and are generally the preferred option for locals and tourists.

My particular vehicle was a 19-seater minibus that they somehow fit 21 people in before picking up more at the side of the road, had no leg room, no seat belts, was too hot, had a driver that didn’t know how to stick to a lane and which had two large cracks in the windscreen but it was cheap (I paid $5 for a 6 hour journey), reliable and got me there in one piece while showing me some sort of Russian movie on an overhead screen until it broke. I can’t ask for more than that, all things considered, but the journey definitely felt like an adventure. The route skirted the Kazakhstan border, at times being only metres away from the border fence, before making its way into Bishkek and dropping people at their destination.


The scenery on the north of Lake Issyk-Kul

Kazakh border

The Kazakh border. The hills in the back are in Kazakhstan.

Kazakh border

You can see a guard tower watching over the border

About half way through the journey we stopped at a rest area so that people could stretch their legs, buy lunch, use the toilets etc. An announcement was made in Russian or Kyrgyz saying when we would be leaving but I didn’t understand it so stayed fairly close to the vehicle and made a few phone calls instead of getting lunch. I seem to believe we were there for about 20 minutes but the length of time probably depends on the time of day, how the driver is feeling and whether there have been any traffic delays.

Kyrgyz public transport

The bus which took me to Bishkek

Stopping for lunch

Stopping for lunch

Kyrgyzstan rest area

It was a service station with a cafe, shop, toilets and petrol station

Begaim told me that there would be a stop at the end of the road containing my hotel, and she wrote the name of the stop in the local alphabet, but I decided to just go all the way to the main bus terminal and get a taxi as it would be easier. The taxi driver got lost a few times but I eventually arrived at the hotel in the mid afternoon which left me plenty of time to explore the city.

I spent a few hours walking around the city taking in the sights before having dinner at a local Italian restaurant. I had planned to sample some good food at one of the local restaurants but all of the ones my guidebook recommended had all closed, or were full, but by the time I found the Italian restaurant my feet were hurting and I was exhausted so didn’t want to do any more walking. Bishkek looks a nice city and I wish I had one more day here, or was able to explore the city for longer, but I have a really early flight in the morning so couldn’t stay out too late.


Walking around Bishkek


Walking around Bishkek

The Kyrgyz flag

The national flag in Bishkek


Relaxing in Bishkek

Main square

Another view of the main square

I’m back in the hotel now and have some repacking to do before my flight back to London. I’m flying Aeroflot – wish me luck!


Karakol, my final night with the group

June 4th, 2015 No comments

I had such a good nights sleep last night. I was warned that Andy was a snorer but the yurt was so luxurious and comfortable, even though I had to sleep on a traditional bed on the floor, that I slept right the way through for the first time all trip and only woke up when Andy left the yurt in order to get the truck ready for the drive ahead. I needed that!

The ride down from the camp showed us some more of the beautiful scenery of Jeti-Oguz. I would personally recommend two nights here if you are travelling on your own, so that you can have a full day walking around the mountains and along the river. Or you could just sit back and relax. If you do visit then keep your fingers crossed that they have replaced the dangerous looking bridge on the way up by the time you get there. I loved the area so much but crossing the bridge made me nervous!

Getting the truck ready

Getting ready to leave Jeti-Oguz


Scenery on the way down


You could easily spend 2 nights at this place

Crossing the river

Crossing the river

Old bridge

Vicki didn’t trust the bridge so got out and walked

New bridge

The new bridge being built

After surviving the dangerous bridge we made a brief stop at the viewpoint overlooking some well-known rocks called Seven Bulls Rocks. The name derives from the rock formation’s resemblance to seven bulls and a legend about a Khan’s unfaithful wife, according to Wikipedia, but I can’t remember the exact legend that Begaim told us. If you’re in the area, or visiting Jeti-Oguz, then definitely head to the top of the hill to take a look at the views. You can also get a view of a town that was built around a hot spring, and the resort that was built as a retreat for Soviet Army Officers. When we were there a boy tried to get us to have photos taken with his Falcon, and was very persistent, so keep an eye out and be prepared to say no if you’re in the area.

Seven Bulls Rocks

Seven Bulls Rocks

Kyrgyz scenery

Looking back towards Jeti-Oguz

From the rocks it was a short drive to Karakol so we arrived too early to be able to check in to our hotel and I took this opportunity to head to a place called “Karakol Coffee” which had high-speed Wi-Fi in order to check about return flights. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts I have decided to try to come back a couple of days early as I have some personal things I need to take care of, and today was the day when I could work out whether it was possible.

I was in luck and there are some cheap flights leaving Bishkek with Aeroflot which are at convenient times and have seats available but I decided not to book straight away. First I wanted to ask Begaim how easy it would be to get back to Bishkek and she confirmed what was in my guide book, that Karakol is a transport hub for the area and that if I wanted to go back to Bishkek early then this would be a good place to leave the trip. There are a few different options depending on when I want to leave, what price I want to pay, and how quickly I need to get there which she explained to me. I decided to give all of the options some thought and then book from the hotel, which also has free Wi-Fi. There was time for a bit of shopping before the hotel would be ready for us so I stocked up on supplies for my journey to Bishkek and also on souvenirs for myself and others (including a felt minion).


Helena parked in Karakol while we wait for the hotel to be ready


Karakol town


Another view of Karakol Town

The Hotel Amir is really nice. It has comfortable beds, isn’t too far from the town centre, is clean, has a restaurant which you are able to eat in and most important for me today has high speed wireless intenet which I planned to use to book my new flight home. Unfortunately it stopped working just as I was about to click “book” on Expedia so I had to go back to Karakol Coffee to use theirs. This was a little inconvenient, and when I got there the price had gone up by £20, but I was going to go back into town anyway. The main thing is that everything is now booked and I will be leaving tomorrow morning. This is a day earlier than I had originally intended but it was the day that worked out best due to being in Karakol and also due to the prices of flights. By coincidence Begaim was in Karakol Coffee when I made the booking so she was able to talk me through the whole process for getting to Bishkek, where to get off the bus and also calm any concerns that I had. She’s a really great guide and I will miss her once I leave the group.

Tonight I will be dining with the Germans and Austrians as they were in Karakol Coffee when I made my booking and we all expressed a wish to go out for Shashlik. The place we chose, in the centre of Karakol, was really nice. I didn’t get the name of it but it’s right opposite their park and next to their shopping arcade. It was a little on the expensive side for this part of the world but was worth every penny and it was nice to have a proper sit down meal to ease myself back into normality.

Don't ask

Trying to escape a dragon

Karakol Coffee

Karakol Coffee, my life line today!


Shashlik with the Germans and Austrians

We parted ways after dinner as I needed to get some money out of the ATM before heading back to the hotel to ensure that I had enough for my journey to Bishkek tomorrow. Karakol is a little scary after dark,as there isn’t much in the way of street lighting and beggars hang around near banks, but I didn’t stay in town on my own for very long and I’m now back safely at the hotel.

I have to admit that I’m extremely nervous about my journey tomorrow. I will be voluntarily pulling out of a trip in a country where I can’t speak the language, don’t understand the alphabet, and where I have to travel half way across the country on my own but it’s something I have to do. Although I do have a little bit of excitement too as I will really be getting under the skin of Kyrgyzstan and after all that’s what travelling is all about. The Dragoman crew knew I was thinking about leaving early, as I asked what the procedure would be, but Begaim is the only person in the group who knows I have actually decided to leave in the morning. I’m just glad that I have seen everything that I came here to see – all that I will be missing is a night at a hot spring resort and a night of wild camping which aren’t important to me. I will also be spending more time in Bishkek than if I had kept my original flights and stayed with the group until the end which is a bonus.

Due to spending a few hours booking flights and hotels, thanks to the Wi-Fi at Karakol Coffee, I didn’t get much of a chance to look around Karakol but it seems from what I’ve seen that there isn’t much to do in the town itself. There are some nice churches, a statue of Lenin, and some nice places to eat or drink (seriously – check out Karakol Coffee if you come here), but other than that from a travel point of view it’s mainly a base for visiting the surrounding areas. If you plan to explore this part of Kyrgyzstan on your own then definitely come here for a couple of days first to stock up on supplies, stay in a nice hotel and visit the agencies that offer tours or transportation.


Jeti-Oguz Gorge

June 3rd, 2015 No comments

Three years ago I bought a Polaroid Pogo printer as I thought it would be useful when travelling, so that I could give kids a copy of photos they ask me to take, but I have never had a chance to use it. This is partly as when I last went to Africa I took the wrong connector cable and partly as my other trips have been ones where we didn’t spend too much time interacting with local kids. This all changed today and I was able to use it for the first time.

After breakfast I spent some time sitting and interacting with the kids who live at the camp with their family. They kept asking to pose for photos and as we had some time before we had to leave, and as we had a working power supply, I thought this was a perfect chance to bring the printer out. You should have seen the face of the first kid I gave the photo to – his eyes lit up, he had a huge smile and he ran away to grab the other kid to show him. I spent about 15 minutes taking and printing photos for both kids before I ran out of paper for the printer and it was nice to see something so simple make them happy. They showed their mother, who asked them to say thank you to me in Russian, before running around the campsite showing everybody. I think I’ve used the phrase “take things for granted” a lot in this blog, especially the entries from this trip, but when you travel to the sort of places I do, get immersed in the culture, and see kids as happy as this over something so simple it really puts things into perspective.

Kids in Kyrgyzstan

This is the kid who was watching the suspicious video last night

Kyrgyz kids

This one wasn’t

Cowboy in Kyrgyzstan

They liked dressing up for photos

Posing for photos

The kids here were adorable

Me and Kyrgyz kids

Me and the kids at the camp

Yurt Camp

Saying goodbye to the camp. Notice the kid still looking at the photos I gave him.


Scenery as we left the camp

Lunch was a little later than normal today as we stopped to do some walking at a spectacular area near the town of Jeti Oguz. I can’t remember the name in Kyrgyz but it translates to “Fairy Tale Canyon”. If you happen to be passing along the south shore of Lake Issyk-Kul definitely stop here as you will not be disappointed. The rocks have such a deep red colouring that they remind me of the red centre of Australia, just closer to civilisation. They have been sand and wind blasted over tens of thousands of years and are just so beautiful. When we first arrived I wasn’t sure where we were walking to as the trail to get to it seemed to go on for ages through the baking heat – smaller vehicles can drive all the way up but our one couldn’t. However when we arrived we were presented with sights like these.

Fairy Tale Canyon

Fairy Tale Canyon

Fairy Tale short cut

Some people decided to take a short cut down

Fairy Tales do come true :)

Fairy Tale Canyon was beautiful

Fairy Tale Canyon

The scenery here was just breathtaking

We spent some time looking around the area, taking photos and climbing up to various view points. Some of them can be very high and up steep slopes so be sure to take care if you visit, but it’s worth the effort. There wasn’t a set time limit but most of us looked around for about an hour before heading back to the truck for the short journey to Jeti-Oguz town. Here we had a chance to grab some lunch at a small local cafe and stock up on supplies before heading up into the mountains.

Jeti Oguz Town

Jeti Oguz Town

Jeti Oguz Town

The cafe we ate at was in the parade to the left

Tonight we are staying in the mountainous area near Jeti-Oguz and I can’t believe how different the scenery is. I think today the scenery has been more diverse than any other day on this trip so far – this morning we woke up on the shores of a lake, then a few hours later we were surrounded by red rock canyons and now it looks like we are in the Alps in Europe. The journey up was a bit treacherous as we had to pass over a lot of wooden bridges, some of which looked less than safe, and the roads were nothing more than dirt tracks but I’m glad we made the trip. We had the option of Yurts or camping again and after seeing the brand new Yurts that were available I immediately chose to pay for the upgrade. I love getting off of the beaten path and visiting remote places but whenever an upgrade from camping is available I generally take it just to improve my enjoyment of the trip as I’m a tall person and find tents uncomfortable to sleep in.

Jeti-Oguz Gorge

Ascending up to Jeti-Oguz Gorge.


This is only a couple of hours from Fairy Tale Canyon but looks like another world.

Jeti-Oguz Gorge

Almost at the camp for tonight

Yurt and Tent camp

This is where we stopped tonight in Jeti-Oguz Gorge

Helena rests

Helena at Jeti-Oguz Gorge

Washing up time

Getting water for washing up

I spent some time walking in the Gorge on my own before dinner. There weren’t any view points to speak of but it was great to walk through the woods listening to the river and taking photos. I planned to have a shower after returning but the motor which pumped water from the river to the heating unit wasn’t working which meant one thing – washing my hair in the river. The water was freezing so I was definitely glad of the heat from the bonfire that we made this evening. The smoke from the bonfire was a little powerful, and my eyes felt like they did after being exposed to volcanic fumes in Nicaragua a few years ago by the time I called it a night, but it was a great evening chilling with the group in a lovely setting.

Jeti-Oguz Walking

Going for my walk

Jeti-Oguz Gorge

A photo from my walk

Bonfire time

Bonfire time

Andy, one of the Dragoman crew, is sharing the Yurt with me tonight as the only other guy who wanted to pay for an upgrade but it’s a huge Yurt so I have loads of space to myself. Tomorrow we make the short trip to Karakol where I can jump on Wi-Fi and work out whether or not I’ll be finishing the trip with the group. I’m getting nervous now as I think I’ve definitely decided I will be travelling back early so I just want to get there and book the flights if I can find any.


Eagle hunting and Lake Issyk-Kul

June 2nd, 2015 No comments

Today ended with an overnight stop at a beautiful lakeside retreat, but earlier in the day I witnessed something which will stick in my mind forever. Those who are squeamish, or those who believe that hunting is wrong, may wish to skip to the end of post as it contains information and photos from an Eagle hunting demonstration which was organised for us.

After breakfast at the home stay we made our way into Kochkor town to pick up some supplies. Prices here were a little higher, although still cheap by western standards, but they had a wider selection and we were able to stock up on personal items like toothbrushes and pens for letters in addition to the usual group supplies. We spent an hour or so shopping before getting back into the truck to head towards Lake Issyk-Kul.

My bed

My bed at the home stay

Dining area

Dining area at the home stay

Home stay

This is the Kochkor home stay


Outside the home stay

Kochkor town

Kochkor town centre


Kochkor town centre

The journey was through the same lovely scenery but this time I spent more time thinking than looking at the landscape going by. The wi-fi started working in the home stay last night as I going to bed and so I was able to get in contact with people and chat to them for a while, but this has made me start to consider whether I want to stay until the end of the trip or come back early. There is absolutely nothing wrong with the trip, in fact I’m having a great time, but somebody close to me is leaving the UK forever on the day that I’m due to arrive back and with all the problems people had with Turkish Airlines on the way out it would be too much if I was delayed and missed saying goodbye. I won’t have any internet tonight to be able to look into prices but should do in Karakol the day after. Although more about that later, if I do decide to come back early, as for now I want to tell you more about my day today.

Kyrgyz scenery

We stopped at a lake to take photos

Helena the truck

Helena while we take photos

A couple of hours passed before we turned off of the road and made our way to a remote spot behind a hill, where we set up lunch. This was also to be the place where we would be given a demonstration of how the locals hunt for food with Eagles, and so was out of the way in order to give the Eagle a quiet place to hunt. Lunch was the usual selection of sandwiches and we had some time to walk around and take in the scenery before the Eagle hunter arrived.

The eagle hunting demonstration was the only part of the trip that I am not sure should have been included so far. I agree that it is part of local tradition but over half of the group were unsure about whether an animal should have to die in order for us to understand the tradition. The animal chosen was a rabbit that was raised by the eagle hunter and which didn’t stand a chance when the Eagle was let loose from a hill overlooking the valley.

Lunch time

Lunch time in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz scenery

Helena being dwarfed by the scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

Some lovely Kyrgyz scenery

Final warning for those who don’t wish to see photos from the Eagle hunting.

One thing I will say is that I am amazed with the beauty, majesty and strength of the Eagle. I have never seem one up close but was given a chance to get up close and personal with her while the hunter was telling us about the local traditions, and about how he came to own her. For the local tribes owning an Eagle is a sign that you are a man, and when you come of age you take your friends up into the mountains to take an egg from a nest (occasionally having to fight off the parents in order to do so). The egg is then incubated by the hunter and the Eagle is raised from birth in order to form an unbreakable bond which allows them to hunt together and remain loyal to each other. A couple of the group said they were going to write to Dragoman to complain but I’m not sure this is necessary – we were all given a chance not to watch the demonstration and to go for a walk while it took place.


The hunter and his eagle


Vicki and the Eagle

Kyrgyz scenery

Some more beautiful scenery

Eagle hunting

The Eagle closing in on her prey

Eagle hunting

The Eagle proudly guarding her catch

While I’m not sure it was necessary I did find it a very informative and effective insight into local culture. I’ll never forget the images, or the noises, from the demonstration though.

The drive from the Eagle hunting demonstration was fairly uneventful and we arrived at our destination for the day after not much more than an hour. We are staying at a camp on the shores of the lake which is owned by a family and where we have the option to camp or upgrade to a yurt. I was the only guy who chose to upgrade and as the camp is fairly empty I have been given a yurt all to myself. It doesn’t have any lighting or power like a couple of the other yurts but it will be my space and I’m looking forward to it tonight. Don’t get me wrong I love the interaction you get with people on this sort of trip, and that’s one of the reasons I come on them, but you do need your own space occasionally to make sure people’s individual habits don’t bother you.

I spent some time later on at the shore of the lake. The scenery was beautiful and the air was really warm but wow was the water cold. Obviously due to the high altitude, the glacial melt and the deepness of the lake it doesn’t get too warm so if you are planning to swim here please take care. The only other place I have been swimming where the water was this cold was at a national park in Namibia so I was only able to stay in there for about a minute before having to get out.

Lake Issyk-Kul

Lake Issyk-Kul

Lake Issyk-Kul

These were at the Yurt Camp

Yurt Camp

This is our Yurt Camp

After dinner a few of us made a bonfire out of some wood that was made available for us, but we were basically given whole trees so this meant a lot of axe work to make anything small enough to burn. It was also really wet so was hard to light and we had to use a combination of fire lighters and toilet paper to get it going. Once it was lit we had a great time chatting to each other and soaking up the atmosphere, although I’m a little worried about one of the kids from the camp who decided to join us. He showed us a video that he had on his phone, and acted it out, but it looked and sounded like some sort of jihadi extremist propaganda video. Hopefully I’m just thinking too much into it but it was a bit scary!

Bonfire time

Bonfire time

I’m sat in my private yurt now and am thinking some more about whether or not to make the journey home early. I think I probably will come back early as long as flights are available but I will have to wait for two more days until we are in Karakol before I will have wi-fi in order to check. As I said in a previous entry I’m not thinking about coming back early due to the trip itself it’s simply because I have something I need to take care of back home – sometimes you have to do what you have to do.


From Song-Kul to Kochkor

June 1st, 2015 No comments

I slept so much better last night than I did the night before. The extra blankets, and being prepared for the temperatures, helped me have a proper nights sleep. I woke up a few times as traditional Kyrgyz beds are uncomfortable but other than that I slept right through and didn’t shiver at all! It snowed overnight so we were presented with some lovely views when we got up this morning. None of the snow fell as close to the lake as we are but the mountains are covered again.

Fresh snow

Fresh snow on the mountains at Song-Kul

Yurt camp

Final photo of the yurt camp

Inside a Yurt

Inside the yurt. My bed was off to the left.

Dung burner

This burnt dried animal dung to heat the yurt

Breakfast today was the most surreal that I have had while travelling – buckwheat and hot milk. I guess in this part of the world they eat what is available, and eat whatever will give them energy to combat the temperatures, but I could have done with something nicer. Take jam with you when you travel in Kyrgyzstan – you’ll need it for times like this. I didn’t have any with me but they served some with breakfast for us anyway.

The ride back down to the main road was incredibly bumpy. Vicki is a faster driver than Andy but I don’t think this is the reason I think it’s more to do with the terrain being frozen solid and icy due to fresh snow fall. We saw just how much snow had fallen when we started navigating the mountain pass – the whole area was covered in snow and the pass was almost blocked again. Luckily we were able to get through ok but as soon as we got to the part with the steep slopes on either side our truck got a puncture and we were forced to stop. Dragoman train their crews well and they were able to change the tyre in what was a really bad location, on a bad road, with no room to move and with fresh snow falling. Credit to the crew, but they also had a bit of help from some locals who were trying to get past us. They helped lift down the new tyre and put the flat one in its place before somehow managing to drive past us without falling down into the valley. While the tyre was being changed we passed the time by stretching our legs and seeing how far we could roll stones down the hill, which doesn’t sound very fun but when you’re stuck on a mountain pass in the snow anything will keep you entertained.

Fresh snow

Fresh snow on our way down from Song-Kul

Snow drift

This drift got a LOT bigger overnight!

Fresh snow in Kyrgyzstan

More fresh snow. So beautiful

Rock throwing

Passing the time while the tyre is changed

Flat tyre

The crew changing our flat tyre

Help from the locals

The locals helped our crew with the tyre

Very scary

Then they drove past on the edge of the cliff


Mountain scenery

Mountain scenery while waiting for the truck to be back in service

Our destination today was the town of Kochkor which wasn’t too far away and is a real outpost town with people coming from all over to get supplies, catch a taxi to Bishkek and other locations, or just travelling through getting to where they need to. From a tourism point of view there isn’t much to do but you’ll get used to that in this part of the world – you don’t come here to visit attractions and be sold tourist tat but to immerse yourself in the culture and see the amazing scenery. We stopped at a local restaurant called Retro which came recommended by the guides. The food was nice but the service was very slow, and the wi-fi advertised was so slow it was almost non-existent. Service was so slow that we were 20 minutes late arriving at our next stop for the day – a felt carpet collective run by the women of the area. The visit didn’t personally interest me but it interested some of the group – we spent about 2 hours here in total being shown how a felt carpet is made, singing songs, touring the facility and shopping. I had a chance to stock up on a few gifts for people, which was useful, but I wish the stop had been shorter. If you happen to be in the area then I would recommend stopping here for the souvenir / gift selection alone as apparently it’s the best outside of Bishkek.


A Kyrgyz farm near Song-Kul Lake

Paved roads

Back on paved roads, on our way to Kochkor

Making felt

Making felt at the co-op demonstration

Running away

Not everybody was as enthusiastic about taking part

The co-op

This is the outside of the co-operative

Tonight we are staying at a home stay / guest house which has lovely beds and flush toilets but the power is currently out so we are without laundry, running water or wi-fi. Our guides have told us that a tree fell down earlier in the day and took out the power to the entire street but hopefully it will be back up soon so I can have a shower, charge my phone and use the wi-fi for a bit.

I’m in luck! As I’m writing the notes for this blog, via head torch, the power has come back on. First port of call is a shower. I briefly managed to use it earlier before the power went out, leaving me with a head covered in shampoo and no running water, so this is definitely needed. Then I’ll see how good the wi-fi is and catch up with people if possible.

A room with a view

The view from my room in Kochkor


A day at Song-Kul Lake

May 31st, 2015 No comments

I wasn’t wrong. Last night was indeed one of the coldest nights I have experienced while travelling and despite being in my sleeping bag, fully clothed, with about 5 blankets on top of me and the burner going I was still up shivering for half of the night. I will definitely need a couple of extra blankets tonight, and have started to doubt my dream of travelling to Antarctica and taking part in the overnight camping trip which some of the operators offer. They will be in tents specifically designed for it, naturally, but it’ll be even colder than here!

I woke up at 7.30 this morning and went straight into the dining tent to warm up in the warmest clothes that I had. The dining tent isn’t particularly warm, there is no heating so by most standards it’s quite cold, but it’s just so cold outside. That’s one reason I decided to take part in the horse riding which was offered to us as I think it’ll warm me up a bit. I used to really enjoy horse riding but haven’t been on a horse for many years – I tried to persuade some of the group to come horse riding with me on Ometepe Island in Nicaragua a few years ago but we didn’t have sufficient numbers to be able to go.

Dog time

Playing with the friendlier of the two dogs at camp

Getting ready

Getting ready for the ride

The ride took us up a hill overlooking a lake so that we could get a good view. The horses are trained not to go faster than a trot with tourists riding them, despite my best efforts, but it was great to be back on a horse again. I’m not sure what the real name of my horse was but I called him Monty and he was great to ride, until half way back when he tripped, throwing me off and making me hit the ground hard. In the past when I fell off of a horse it was always onto sawdust or soft ground, not hard ground that is frozen solid, so I was winded quite badly but I knew how to roll so as not to injure myself. Overall I really enjoyed the ride and if you are given a chance to go horse riding when at Song-Kul lake then definitely do it – you will not regret it. The only annoying thing for me was that one of the dogs from the Yurt camp followed us the whole way and kept distracting our horses.

Me on a horse

A bad photo, but this is me on the horse ride

Horse Riding

Horse riding at Song-Kul Lake

Annoying dog

This is the dog that kept distracting the horses

Song-Kul Horse Riding

On our way back to camp

Me and Monty

Me and “Monty” the horse

One thing I didn’t like, being a horse lover, was how the front legs of the horses are tied together when they’re not being ridden to stop them running away. It seemed a bit unnecessary as there was a post with long rope which they could have been tied to but I guess this is the traditional way.

I spent the rest of the day just walking around, taking in the scenery and taking some photos by the lake. I also had a chance to catch up on writing the notes for this blog – as explained elsewhere on this site I write my blog in note format when travelling and then type it up properly when I get home. I have found that this method works best for me as I generally try to immerse myself into a destination when travelling rather than spending hours writing, although it can sometimes mean that I fall behind. I had a bit of a shock when I finished writing the notes today – I had been sat on the shore of the lake for maybe 2 hours but when I turned around there were several hundred sheep behind me which made me jump. They were apparently as startled by me as I was by them and no sooner had I stood up but they all ran away.


Sitting on the shore of Song-Kul Lake

Song-Kul scenery

Song-Kul Lake scenery

Song-Kul Lake

This is the bar of land we walked along yesterday

Song-Kul Yurts

Looking towards a yurt camp at Song-Kul Lake


Livestock on the banks of Song-Kul Lake.

Song-Kul Lake

One final photo of the lake from my walk

While I was at the shore of the lake a number of group members either went horse riding as well or walked around the lake taking in the beautiful scenery. If you like walking, photography and mountain scenery, like me then this is definitely a special place but as it’s in the middle of the nowhere it doesn’t have much else to do. It is worth every piece of effort to come here, however. I have really enjoyed my time here so it’s sad that we have to leave in the morning but I’m looking forward to getting back to lower altitudes and warmer climates again. Take my advice – no matter what time of year you come here bring some cold weather gear or thermals. You will need them!

Unfortunately it rained for a while this afternoon so I had to hide in the truck, chatting to other group members and watching the family who run the camp dig a new toilet pit, until dinner was ready. Once again the food served was nothing special but it filled a gap before another early night. Hopefully this one won’t be as cold, although judging by the snow which has been falling tonight up on the mountains I’m not going to hold my breath!

Snow inbound!

Some freezing low level cloud laying fresh snow on the mountains

Sunset at Song-Kul

Sunset and cloud formations