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Posts Tagged ‘Truck’

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.


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.


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


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.


Leaving Chaek

Cheap shopping

This is where we stopped for cheap supplies


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


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.


Song-Kul Lake yurt camp

Song-Kul Walk

Going for a walk at the lake


Song-Kul Lake


Skipping stones during our walk


Song-Kul Lake


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 at Song-Kul


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 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


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 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


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.


The town of 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!


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


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 at the side of the road

Lake photo

The lake where we stopped for lunch


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


Looking back towards Helena

A lake

The lake was lovely


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.


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.


Starting the walk

Walking in Kyrgyzstan

Walking in Kyrgyzstan


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 market


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!


Into Kyrgyzstan

May 26th, 2015 No comments

Today we made our way across the border and into Kyrgyzstan, the country I have been looking forward to ever since seeing that photo. It is a shame that we didn’t see more of Uzbekistan as there is so much to see but it Dragoman do offer a segment of overlanding between Turkmenistan and Tashkent for people who want to see more. I would have loved to have done the entire month between Ashgabat and Bishkek but unfortunately I can’t take that amount of time off work.

We had an early start in order to give us a head start with the border crossing and I’m glad we left when we did as it took a long time to cross. It didn’t take time as the border guards were lazy it took a long time as they were very, very thorough. We had our passports checked several times before getting to the immigration desks and, after filling out lots of forms, we joined a slow queue for the final passport and customs check. This wasn’t the end of the process, however, as we had a detailed bag search before we were able to leave Uzbekistan and walk across no-mans land to Kyrgyzstan. I assume the checks were to stop drug smuggling but I can’t be sure.

Inside the truck

Inside Helena the truck

Heading to the border

Heading to the border

There were a number of passport checks on the Kyrgyz side but the whole process went a lot quicker. We were through immigration and stamped into the country in no time and as a result my first impression of the country is exponentially better to that of Uzbekistan. The people seem friendly too – after being stamped into the country I was making my way out of the building and a Kyrgyz Army officer was attempting to come in at the same time. I stopped to let him pass first, naturally, but after enquiring whether I was a tourist he said “No, you are a tourist to my country. You first” before stepping to the side to let me pass which was really nice of him. If only border guards and officials could be this friendly everywhere *cough* America *cough*.

It took a while for our truck to go through the border so we had a chance to get to know our local guides before finally resuming our journey. Our first stop in Kyrgyzstan was Osh, the second city of Kyrgyzstan. It seemed a nice place but we only spent enough time here to change some money, have lunch and stock up on personal supplies for the trip. I changed $140, thinking this should last me until I am able to work out how much I’ll need for the entire trip, but judging by the price of lunch I don’t think I’ll need to change any more – including drinks and tip I only paid $5!


Arriving in Osh, Kyrgyzstan

Lunch in Osh

This is where we had lunch in Osh


The town centre of Osh

As we drove from Osh towards Arslanbob, where we are staying tonight, the scenery kept changing so quickly that I almost didn’t have time to take photos of everything. Due to the delays at the border we didn’t have a chance to stop and take many photos, unfortunately, except for having to stop for 20 minutes next to a lake so that the President of Kyrgyzstan could drive past. No I’m not joking.


Kyrgyz scenery

Waiting for the President

At the lake

Helena the truck

Helena by the lake

The President of Kyrgyzstan

The President of Kyrgyzstan passes

Kyrgyz lake

The lake we stopped at was beautiful

Kyrgyz people

Kyrgyz riders

The last leg of today’s journey was the final ascent into Arslanbob, after one more quick stop to buy supplies. We are staying in home stays for the next couple of nights and the house I’m staying in is really nice. It has a little stream passing through the garden, has lovely views, a working power supply, nice beds and the family seem really nice. The food is plentiful too, judging by dinner tonight, and I definitely won’t go hungry!

Kyrgyz scenery

Kyrgyz scenery

A donkey

A donkey blocking our path

Dinner time

Dinner in the home stay


The start of the trip

May 25th, 2015 No comments

So much for the good nights sleep I was looking forward to last night as at around 3.30 this morning I was woken up by my room mate finally arriving almost 24 hours late. Although I needed the sleep I can’t really complain as he has had a rough time and after speaking to him it turns out I almost ended up in the same situation.

I had originally planned to fly our of London Heathrow on the late morning flight with Turkish Airlines, which would give me a 3 hour connection for my flight to Tashkent, but as mentioned earlier in the blog my plans changed once I heard about the free Istanbul city tour and I flew out the night before instead. Jon, my room mate for the night, left London on the flight I had planned to take but it was delayed due to a technical fault which meant that he missed his connection in Istanbul and had to wait 24 hours for the next flight with space. Not only that but when he arrived in Tashkent he found out that his bags were still in Istanbul – for once I had a lucky escape!

After a quick breakfast we all jumped in taxis that had been booked to take us across the Kamchik Pass to the Fergana Valley. This is a requirement as large passenger-carrying vehicles are not allowed over the pass due to a high rate of fatal accidents. Normally no large vehicles are allowed over the pass at all but our local guide knows the local chief of police and is able to barter, for a large sum of money, permission for the truck to travel as long as it is done overnight.

Uzbek town

An Uzbek town that we passed through

The scenery as we left Tashkent wasn’t anything to write home about but the scenery that we were presented with when we stopped at a viewpoint on the Kamchik Pass was absolutely breathtaking. I’m told that the scenery gets better and better throughout the trip so I’m really excited as the landscape and remoteness were major factors in me deciding to visit this part of the world.

Kamchik Pass

The Kamchik Pass

Kamchik Pass

The view point on the Kamchik Pass

Lunch time

This is where we stopped for lunch

Lunch today was at a cafe at the side of the road and, except for the fact they forgot my order, was really simple but nice just like in Tashkent. I’m getting a feeling this is a sign of things to come, which I’m pleased with as I’m a fussy eater, but hopefully the service will improve.

We stopped in the town of Kolkand along the way in order for us to visit an old palace which has been turned into a museum. According to our guide today is the final day of primary school which explained the large crowds in the park next to the palace but meant that we got a lot of attention. One of our group, Sam, is a tall Austalian with blond dreadlocks and apparently this is the description of a legendary character from an Uzbek folk story which of course meant that everybody wanted a photo with him. A few people we wouldn’t have minded – even I had that attention and had to pose for three photos – but at one point there was a crowd of several hundred people surrounding Sam!

Sam's fan club

Sam’s fan club

Sam's Fan Club

Sam’s fan club grew quickly

Inside the Museum

Inside the museum

Inside the museum

Inside the museum

Inside the museum

The museum courtyard, with some of the kids who followed us


The park outside the museum

The museum itself is worth a visit if you’re in the area as it tells you about the history of the valley from ancient times, to the days of the silk route, all the way up to modern times and includes photos, maps, artefacts and more. Some of the original palace was destroyed when the building was used as a Russian Army garrison but I enjoyed looking around the remaining sections.

Before making our way to our final destination we stopped at a silk factory for a pre-arranged tour. We were shown the entire process from the breeding of silk worms to the cooking of the silk, the dying process and the manufacturing process. Most of the group, myself included, found the visit quite boring but it was nice to be able to get out of the cars and stretch our legs and there were several members of the group who could have easily spent hours there due to enjoying the experience so much.

Silk Factory

Cooking the worms

Making scarves

Making scarves for Uzbek Airlines

Tonight we’re staying in a hotel with a pool in the city of Fergana, close to the border with Kyrgyzstan. We didn’t see much of the city as we arrived late but after a quick swim in the pool there was time for a group meal at a local restaurant. I ordered Shashlik and chips – the quality was nice but once again the service was slow and my drink never arrived. I’ve been partnered with Sam for the night – it looks like we will be mixing and matching room mates throughout the trip.