Looking for tickets or info for the Get Happy Tour 2018 featuring Bowling for Soup, Army of Freshmen and The Aquabats?

This domain name was used for the Get Happy Tour back in its original run around 10 years ago, when I used to do work for BFS and AOF. However, for the past 5 years it has been used for my travel blog as I never thought we would have another Get Happy Tour and I didn't want it to go to waste.

But as a favour to two bands who have done a lot for me over the years, and so you don't miss out, ticket info is:
O2 Presale: 10am on 25 September
General Onsale: 10am on 27 September.

Tickets available from ticketmaster.co.uk and bowlingforsoup.com
 


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Posts Tagged ‘Overland’

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

Cab

The driving cab of Helena

Army truck

The truck the others went to the hot springs in

Hotel Amir

The Hotel Amir in Karakol

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.

Scenery

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.

Bishkek

Walking around Bishkek

Bishkek

Walking around Bishkek

The Kyrgyz flag

The national flag in Bishkek

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!

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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

Scenery on the way down

Jeti-Oguz

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).

Karakol

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

Karakol

Karakol town

Karakol

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!

Meat!

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.

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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

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.

Jeti-Oguz

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.

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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

Kochkor

Outside the home stay

Kochkor town

Kochkor town centre

Kochkor

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.

Eagle

The hunter and his eagle

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.

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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

P1280740

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.

Farm

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

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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.

Song-Kul

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

Cows

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

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Arriving at Song-Kul Lake

May 30th, 2015 No comments

What a place Song-Kul Lake is. After seeing it for myself I’m not sure that this is the lake in the photo which inspired me to visit Kyrgyzstan but it’s the place I was looking forward to the most. So remote, so beautiful and with the freshest air I have ever breathed (depite the low pressure due to altitute).

The day started with breakfast in the home stay in Chaek, before a chance to stock up in the local shops. The guys were right when they told me about the prices here yesterday – I bought two large bottles of vodka, one large bottle of fanta and one large bottle of water for the equivalent of 4.5 US dollars. You wouldn’t even buy the fanta and water for that price in Europe so take my advice and stop at the little stores in the villages if you visit this part of the world. They may not have the range that supermarkets in the larger towns do but they are cheaper and you will be supporting the local people rather than businessmen in Bishkek.

Chaek

Leaving Chaek

Cheap shopping

This is where we stopped for cheap supplies

Scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

We are the first overland vehicle to visit Song-Kul lake this season. Apparently there was a high amount of snow over the winter and the first pass has only just opened up enough for us to get through. This means that we had to go the long way around but that there is still plenty of snow for us to see. There isn’t much to tell you about the journey up to the lake as until we began the climb up to the pass it was all on paved highways. We stopped for lunch just before starting the climb, remaining inside the truck due to rain, and then it was time for high altitude!

Mountain Pass

Stopping at a mountain pass

Scenery

Some more diverse scenery

Lunch in the truck

Making lunch in the truck

The start of the climb was ok, and was mainly through farms and valleys, but we were soon travelling along mountain roads with only just enough room for our truck to pass and with steep drops on the side. After surviving the climb we stopped at the pass to take some photos, although at 3500m altitude it was freezing so we didn’t stay long. This is why I’m here though – to get away from it all, relax, see some beautiful mountains and maybe discover some things about myself along the way so a bit of cold won’t stop me. The high altitude is likely to get me before the cold does as 3500m is 11500 feet, which is higher than the altitude at which you can start to develop altitude sickness unless you take precautions!

Mountain scenery

The scenery is definitely more mountainous now

High pass

Me at the highest we have been all trip

After arriving at our Yurt camp on the shores of the lake a few of us decided to go for a walk along a bar of land that stretches out into the lake. It looked from first impressions that you could walk all the way around in a big loop, and indeed some people tried, but apparently the land became too marshy and they had to turn back. We later found out that officially that area of land is off limits, we just didn’t understand the sign in Kyrgyz along the shore telling us. I treated the walk as a chance to acclimatise to the altitude and get away from the truck for a bit. On these sorts of trips the truck is your home away from home but you do need to get away occasionally so you don’t go mad – I can only imagine how the leaders feel being stuck on the vehicle for 8 months at a time.

Yurts

Song-Kul Lake yurt camp

Song-Kul Walk

Going for a walk at the lake

Song-Kul

Song-Kul Lake

Song-Kul

Skipping stones during our walk

Lake

Song-Kul Lake

Song-Kul

A small bay on Song-Kul Lake

Dinner was served in a separate dining tent and wasn’t served in particularly large portions but it was tasty and filling. We also had a table full of snacks which we could load up on. Some of the group are outside drinking but I have decided to head to bed. It’s not even 9pm but I’m getting really tired for some reason, perhaps the altitude, and it’s also too cold outside. Way too cold outside! I have taken 3 spare blankets from the pile but I have a feeling this is going to be one of the coldest nights I have experienced.

Dinner

Dinner at Song-Kul

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Real coffee and another home stay

May 29th, 2015 No comments

Unfortunately I didn’t get much sleep last night. The ground was so hard, my tent mate snored loudly, and he also woke up early in order to prepare breakfast but this gave me a chance to do a bit of walking and take some photos before everybody else got up.

The Lake

The lake by morning

Helena the truck

Helena by the lake

Helena

Helena and the lake

Breakfast was a nice huge portion of scrambled eggs, which went down a treat, and was very welcome due to the long driving day ahead. Our guides cheered us up by telling us that we would be stopping for lunch at a service station which served real coffee. Anybody who knows me knows how much I like coffee and how much this piece of news would have excited me!

The long journey was worth it today as we saw so many scenery changes, all of which showed us something that was more beautiful than before. I have said it so many times but it is so beautiful in Kyrgyzstan and is worth the long travel days and lack of sleep. Our first scenery change was a mountain pass which we needed to travel along in order to reach our destination and, at 3150 metres, was freezing cold and covered in snow. We were allowed out to use the toilet, which was just as basic and horrifying as the truck stop I visited in Uganda a few years ago, before having some time to take photos of the scenery and start our first snow ball fight of the trip.

Scenery in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz scenery

Me at the pass

Me at the mountain pass

Lake

The lake, which the toilet dropped into

Lunch was at the previously mentioned service station where we set up in the car park out of the way of vehicles. My job within the group is to fill up the water tanks when we stop and this was the first place I was able to for a few days, however it had to wait as I was in need of the long-awaited real coffee inside. It was only from a machine, rather than a coffee bar, but was great. They even had almond syrup which is my favourite!

Lunch

Lunch time again

Lunch time

Lunch at the service station

Riding a horse

Another Kyrgyz horse rider

This afternoon I had a chance to sit up on the roof of the truck while we drove through a canyon and it was a perfect opportunity to see the lovely scenery pass by. This was the first time I had ever sat on the roof of the truck while travelling with Dragoman but it was great so it’s a shame we didn’t have a chance while in Africa. The journey took us along the side of a river, through a couple of valleys and past the construction sites of some new power lines that are being installed – the construction workers seemed to enjoy seeing our truck and waved when we went past. One thing that struck me today, even more so than in previous days, is the diverse and rich colours that the landscape is composed of. I’ve been to some pretty amazing places before but Kyrgyzstan is already the most beautiful country I have visited… and apparently the best is yet to come!

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery as we enter the gorge

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

Workers

Construction workers say hi

On the roof

Riding on the roof of the truck

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

The original plan for tonight was to wild camp somewhere near the river but our local guides found us a home stay that was available in the nearby town of Chaek. It was a large compound that was previously owned by a local politician who was killed in some sort of accident and the workers keep the house available for people hoping to stay in the town. Toilets were the usual drop variety but we were all in one building, it was hot, there was laundry available, the food was brilliant, the power worked all the time and most importantly we had hot showers! In the west we take things like a hot shower, laundry facilities and power for granted but when you travel to places like this they are a luxury which you are happy to see when available.

Chaek doesn’t have much to do but after my shower I spent some time wandering around, taking in the sights, taking some photos and stretching my legs. Some of the group stocked up on supplies in a local shop and apparently the prices here are the cheapest they have seen all trip so I’ll have to make sure that I buy anything I need before we leave tomorrow.

Chaek

The town of Chaek

Chaek

Monuments in Chaek

Chaek drinks

Socialising before dinner

I sat on the porch of the house chatting to a few of the group while waiting for dinner and it was nice to be able to get to know some of them more. I haven’t connected with anybody as much as I did on the Africa or Central America trips yet but they’re a good bunch of people and are fun to travel with. We chatted some more over dinner, which was sit-down style in the large dining room. The food was so nice that we asked for extras to be cooked to take with us for lunch tomorrow!

At the moment I’m sat on my traditional bed in the room reserved for the guys. The others are mainly outside drinking on the porch but I’m ready for sleep so decided not to join them as we leave for Song-Kul lake in the morning and I’m really excited so want to be awake!

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Camping in Kyrgyzstan

May 28th, 2015 No comments

After leaving the home stay this morning we proceeded to a local market in the town of Kochkor-Ata to buy supplies and I was surprised how cheap the prices were! We were given a budget of 5000 som to buy dinner, breakfast and lunch for the group but only ended up spending 3250 (around 40 US dollars). Not only was the market so cheap compared to prices I am used to it was fun to browse around. Luckily the local guides were on hand to translate at the butcher so that we could get the cut of meat we wanted and have it chopped into cubes for dinner. The only problem was that the money had recently been drawn from a bank so our money was a 5000 som note, much to the annoyance of the first stall we went to where we only spent 350.

My room

My room in the home stay

Dining area

The dining area of the home stay

Our home stay

Leaving the home stay

Helena the truck

Helena parked up by the home stay

Market

The market in Kochkor-Ata

Lunch today was at a quarry overlooking a lake and was really beautiful so I was glad when we were told there was some free time to wander around before we would have to head off. I just can’t get used to how quickly the scenery changes in this country – what you see in these photos is the third area of drastically different scenery that we have seen today.

Animals in the road

One of the smaller herds

Lunch

Lunch at the side of the road

Lake photo

The lake where we stopped for lunch

Marker

A common sight in the former USSR

We had to travel along a few narrow roads to get to our final destination today and this wasn’t easy due to the huge herds of sheep and cattle being driven to new pastures that had to be avoided, with oncoming traffic making a point of pushing through aggressively, however when we arrived at the lake it was worth the hassle as the view was breathtaking.

The lake, as we found out this morning, is the result of soviet-era dams and powerplants which flooded the area in order serve the needs of Moscow. The lake it created is a bit green, as were some of the suspicious looking leaves growing in the surrounding fields, but the locals didn’t seem to mind swimming in it. I opted to stay on the banks and have a walk around before it was time to get ready for dinner while the others either drank or chatted to some Swiss people that they had seen a couple of times in Uzbekistan.

Camping in Kyrgyzstan

Camping with a view

Helena

Looking back towards Helena

A lake

The lake was lovely

Suspicious

These were growing sporadically around the field

I was in the cook group tonight, for the first time all trip, and we put on a lovely feast of stir-fried beef with rice and vegetables. I thought that we had cooked way too much, which was surprising considering the cost, but everything was eaten except two servings of rice which made me happy.

We chatted for a bit before calling it a night. I’m starting to get exhausted but I’m having a great time.

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Walking in Arslanbob

May 27th, 2015 No comments

The scenery is beautiful in this country, in fact it’s one of the main reasons I decided to pick this trip, so even though I’m not much of a trekker I decided to join the group for a trek in the mountains to see the scenery. After breakfast in the home stay we made our way up into the town and met near the Mosque in the town centre.

Walking in Kyrgyzstan

Walking up to town

The walk itself, for somebody that isn’t used to hills, was fairly challenging but not as challenging as the hill climb in Myanmar last year. It was about 4 hours long and took us up some hills, through a couple of villages and down some lovely paths to a view point. The view point chosen as our destination was a bit of an anticlimax considering how exhausted I was but I was glad I took part.

Walking

Starting the walk

Walking in Kyrgyzstan

Walking in Kyrgyzstan

Mountains

A good view of the mountains

Kyrgyz kids

Kyrgyz kids came to say hello

Walking in Kyrgyzstan

Walking in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz scenery

This is where our walk finished.

On the way back I had a string of bad luck including losing my sunglasses, falling over and hurting my ankle, getting wet from rain and then sinking up to my knees in mud that was hidden under some dry-looking ground so I was glad when I found out that the group leaders had organised some transport for us to get to the town quicker. Only a handfull of us decided to take up the offer of transport, and it was a fairly uncomfortable ride, but I was in an amount of pain by this point so it was very welcome!

Lunch today was in a restaurant in the centre of the town which, as we found out when we left, was built out over a gorge created by the local river. Food in this part of the world is nothing special but it’s filling and after a hard day of walking we were all glad to sit down, fill our stomachs and chat for a bit.

Arslanbob

Arslanbob market

Lunch

Lunch in Arslanbob

Lunch with added danger

The tables were over the edge of a gorge!

A few of the group decided to try to find beer, although this was extremely difficult as due to the high proportion of followers of Islam in the town, only one Russian-owned bar was serving anything alcoholic. I gave the alcohol a miss and decided to head back down to the home stay, somehow finding my way back despite not paying attention to landmarks on the way out this morning.

We relaxed in the garden of the home stay for a few hours, and I was able to wash the mud out of my trousers, but heavy rain cut short the social activities and we had to hide inside for a while until dinner was ready.

Walking back to the home stay

Walking back to the home stay

Overall today was fairly uneventful apart from the walk but it was nice to see some of the amazing scenery that this country has to offer!

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