On our way up the mountains, we chatted to a touring cyclist on the approach to first mountain pass….he was from Holland. We gave him some encouragement and altitude information and left him to huff it up the mountain. Power to you crazy cycling mountain guy!
The bus did really well with the climbing. All we had to do was put it into low gear and let it crank away, all the way up to 3,500 meters (which is well over 11,000 feet). The weather turned cooler and crisper as we ascended past herds of goats, horses, and cattle. After a week in the stifling heat of the Uzbek desert, the air here was finally refreshing.
Like in most places the locals were selling their wares by the side of the road. What they were selling looked to be dairy, probably mare’s milk and cheese.
We had lunch beside a cold mountain river on the descent from the first pass, which was over 10,000 feet. We made pasta and sauce on the camp stove with coffee. We were joined by some guys on a fishing trip. The four men were from Jalalabad, further south in Kyrgyzstan. They gave us a melon which they cut up and we all had some – very delicious! Although when they first came over, we had thought that they were trying to sell us the melon until one of the men (who spoke some English) said no. no One had coffee with us and was very intrigued by the lump sugar we had! He was actually a police officer so we gave him one of the Salem Police badges….he was thrilled!
We started the ascent to the second, higher, mountain pass of the day….this will be the highest elevation on the trip – about 13,000feet. The switchbacks were pretty intense getting up to it, but the road was in really good condition which made the ride much better.
All of the grade signs are 12%...must have been the one sign they made.
There is a tunnel at the very top of the pass which was pretty scary – we thought about the touring cyclist who will have to attempt that in a couple of days…..not good! Also, we may have actually gone through the tunnel against the flow of traffic....we think that there was a traffic light which we didn't heed.....oops! It was a narrow tunnel and we had to tuck the wing mirrors in when we went past another vehicle. Oh, and there were no lights in the tunnel.
The descent back to the valley floor was incredible. We put the BBB in 2nd gear and just let it sit there for most of the descent – switchback after switchback, winding down the steep mountain side. It went on for a long time…..the scenery was spectacular. Blue sky, jagged mountain peaks all around, roaring rivers, that we bridged time and time again. Quite the drive. There were snow tunnels as well, so that the road doesn’t get blocked by avalanches or drifting snow. We crisscrossed two rivers and they signposted the same river at every crossing....it is a shame that they can't signpost everything that way!
A couple of curiosity stops by the police on the drive in Bishkek…..one may have been for speeding, but when we told him we were going to Mongolia, we think he may have seen other teams and knew the world of pain that awaited him if he decided to pursue his speeding violation! Thank you prior Mongol Rally Teams! Thank you!
The traffic got much heavier as we approached the city. It was bad in the mountains, not because of the volume but because people will overtake anywhere!! We were stuck behind a flock of sheep on the descent at one point and people were still overtaking while trying to get through the flock…..totally bizarre. Also, people have raced around us, only to pull into a side street or a parking place mere seconds later……very confusing.
Once in the city though, all hell broke loose traffic wise. Andrea navigated us wonderfully to Shamur Asia, a hotel we found in the Central Asia Lonely planet guide book. We loved the owner lady of Shamur Asia. She was a medium height, stocky lady with a bull cut bleach blind hair in a super short, satin house coat. Her favorite phrase is “Okay, no problem” said in a very high slightly Polish voice. But even still she let us park the bus in her compound with triple security. Door locks of two types and video security. The bus was safe and so were we! We asked and she called a taxi for us to go to a money changer (new country = new money). The taxi brought us to money changer, he would only change $100 bills not $20s like we had brought fought with him over that. Not only that but he gave us a REALLY bad exchange on Uzbek Som – we haggled a bit and got better rate but still not good. Then we went to another changer, would not take $20s either. What is it with this country and hundred dollar bills!!! Finally we found a bank-o-mat (ATM) and took out money at a good exchange rate and no hassle. Then we took the same taxi back to the hotel.
We cleaned up for the first time in a long time and put on jeans again!!!! Rather than filthy traveling pants (lots of pockets and very durable but still get filthy after wearing them for a week). Also, for the first time in a long time it was cool enough for jeans!!! Sweet! In the Lonely Planet guide we found a good sounding place for Udon noodles. So we called another taxi to bring us to dinner. When we got there it was closed. I am talking windows boarded up kind of closed… No Udon noodles for dinner. We asked Taxi driver for a place with good food and of course he took us to the most American place possible with no local beer and who offered us chicken fingers and onion rings for a starter in BISHKEK!!! We got some dumplings called Mantu that were at least Kyrgyzstan-ish and called it a night. Over the other side of the restaurant we saw a kid with an Americorp t-shirt on sitting at a table with a bunch of people who sounded like they were speaking English so we went over to say hi. They were not overly friendly which was surprising after all of the wonderful experiences we have had with people on this trip, the Americans were the least friendly so far… Not cool. They pointed us towards the center where we had read that there was a water and light show at 9pm. We went and watched for a while and sat and laughed at all of the kitsch sellers.
We noticed that the little kids (I’m talking 2 and 3 year olds) around here walk very very well. We think it is because all of the streets are so uneven that you learn balance very young here. We also saw remote control baby cars with older siblings steering their baby siblings around. Thought about what would have happened to Bruce if his older brother Stewart ever had a chance to drive him around in a remote control car as an infant…hmm…
We don’t know if the show actually started or not, but we got bored and started being shadowed by sketchy dudes, so we caught another taxi back to the hotel and went to bed.
We even got an “Okay! No problem from the mini-housedress wearing hotel owner on our way up to the room…