Got to the airport at 8:30pm for my 10:45 flight to Bishkek. One big queue for all the flights, but luckily I got checked in by 9:30pm, got some McD's, then boarded the 737 for the 4 hour flight to Bishkek. First time flying a LCC ( low cost carrier), Flydubai, but the flight was ok. Food & drinks cost extra, but only $2 for a coke, so not too bad. Although it was a red eye flight, the seats didn't recline, and no blankets or pillows, so couldn't really sleep.
Days 1 & 2.
Landed at Bishkek airport at 4:30am local time. It's the main airbase where they fly the air tankers for the jet fighters over Afghanistan, so there were about 10 707 air tankers parked on the apron. Got my passport stamped by customs, got my bag, and caught a taxi for the 25 minute ride into town.
Got to the hotel and as too early to check in, dropped off my bags and went for a walk into town. Still dark, but was good to watch the city slowly come to life as the sun rose. Wandered aimlessly around town, taking a photo or two. Had a bit of a conversation with a couple of Kyrgyz guys who were half drunk and wanted to practice their English. Bought some bread rolls and Airan (fermented milk drink) for breakfast, and then headed to the national history museum at 10am. Was a bit outdated, and the main attraction was a couple of faux-bronze murals that were a bit of a shrine to Lenin. Met an American guy who recognized my 'Intrepid' bag. After chatting for a bit realised we were on the same trip.
Grabbed a kebab for 75 soms, or about $1.5 for lunch. Then went back to the hotel to check in, and crashed for a bit of nap.
After managing to get up a few hours later, went out for a run on the streets. Had a shower, then went out for some dinner. Found the 'Obama bar & grill', and had some chicken burritos. Definitely more American than Kyrgyz.
Got up Sunday morning, went for a run, and then met up with the rest of the people for the group meeting. A couple called Jodi and Paul are the driver and tour leader, and have started the truck driving from Greece all the way to Beijing, and now on the way back to Greece. Some people started the trip from Beijing, and are getting off in Istanbul, for a total of 96 days. I'm hopping on here at Bishkek, and getting off in Tashkent, Uzbekistan in 16 days time. A good mixture of people and nationalities, Aussies, another kiwi, a few from the US, UK and Canada. Met up with my room/tent mate Jack from the UK. He had just turned up after missing his flight at Stanstead, and had to fork out another $1000 for a later flight from Heathrow:(.
Our truck is similar to the one we had on my 2012 Kenya trip, but has a name this time, 'Aziza' or Arabic for precious.
Some photo's from my 2 days in Bishkek.
Lada & Vege's.
Bride & Groom.
The White house.
Cat in the window.
Chess & Cards.
Loading up our truck, 'Aziza' (yes, it's a 'she') at the start of Day 3 of the trip in Bishkek.
We then drove up into the mountains to Ala Archa National Park and put up our tents for the first night under canvas.
Then headed out for a hike with our trusty Kyrgyz guide, Said.
Our campsite was at 2,200 metres elevation, and the plan was to head up to 2,700 metres to a small waterfall.
Dave & Maia from the US. They are doing the dream thing and quit their jobs back home to do some serious travelling!
Heading up the valley. As it was the first trek of the trip we weren't going to attempt to climb any peaks (yet).
Heading back down to the campsite after a successful ascent.
Huddled around the campfire after dinner. Yes, it is as cold as it looks!
Day 4 we packed up the tents, went back into Biskek to get Uzbek visa's, and then drove along the border of Kazakhstan to Chong Kemin Valley. There were a couple of trucks literally overflowing with turnips, so Lucy stopped and salvaged a few for the vegetarians.
Our campsite in the Chong Kemin Valley on the evening of Day 4.
Lamb meatballs and pasta for dinner.
Turnip fields & pickers as we drove out of the valley on Day 5 for the trip to the town of Karakol.
The Kyrgyz cows seemed alot sturdier than the NZ ones, almost as good as climbing hills as the goats.
Diesel locomotive with Soviet era emissions.
At roughly half-way of our drive to Karakol, Said took us for a hike through this beautiful 'martian' coloured landscape.
Pano from the hill.
Enjoying the view.
As we drove closer to Karakol, there were a few delays enroute.
After arriving in Karakol on the evening of Day 5, we headed out to see the local sights on the morning of Day 6. A Chinese built mosque that was used as a warehouse during the Soviet era.
And a Russian Orthodox church that was used as a gymnasium.
At the local markets getting some supplies.
The plan for Day 6 was to drive up to 2,400 metres to Altyn Arashan. The rocky mountain roads were too tough for 'Aziza', so we temporarily swapped her for a Russian ex-military Kamaz.
The morning of Day 7 in Altyn Arashan. Luckily we were staying in dorms and not tents!
Our Kamaz in its element.
The plan for Day 7 was to do a 10 hour trek up to 4,000 metres, and the valley was literally full of green the day before. But the snow mean't a more leisurely hike instead.
Looking down the valley.
The caretakers lodge.
The cat sheltering under a Soviet UAZ-452 4WD van.
Up the valley.
Pano from up the hill.
The snow cleared in the afternoon and we were able to go for a bit of a trek up the valley.
Another pano from the morning of Day 8. Was hard to believe that only 24 hours difference from the second pic above!
Team photo by the Kamaz.
Sergey showing what the Kamaz can do on our way back to Karakol.
When we made it back to Karakol, I treated myself to duck fillet with pancakes & sour cream for the princely sum of $6.
After getting supplies in Karakol on Day 8, we carried onto our next destination, Jeti-Ögüz, or 'Seven Bulls', referring to these rocky red cliffs.
We then drove up into a valley in Jeti-Ögüz. The bridges were all made of logs, so we all walked up while 'Aziza' negotiated the slippery wooden bridges.
A Lada romping through one of the fords in the valley.
Setting up the tent on the evening of Day 8.
The plan for Day 9 was to climb a mountain! With the guys looking over the valley below, with Lake Issyk Kul in the distance.
At about 2900 metres, or about 9,500 feet. The campsite was at 2,200m and the plan was to go to 3,600 metres, so we were about half-way (vertically anyway).
Dave making his ascent with Lake Issy Kul in the far right.
Dave & Maia posing for a shot.
Finally at the top!
Me looking across at the snow capped mountains. Luckily we had perfect weather, with almost zero wind & clouds.
Group photo at 12,000 feet.
Pano at the top with Lucy & Gerald at far right.
Making our descent at about 2:30pm.
The 1.4km (vertical) descent took ~2 hours, about half the time of the ascent.
Cooking S'mores around the fire back at the camp.
On the morning of day 10 we walked out of the valley, and restocked on the essientials, chocolate!
Day 10 was also Thanksgiving for the Canadians on the trip.
Gerald lending a push to a local when we stopped at a servo as we continued the journey west.
Random Mig in the middle of nowhere.
This place was supposed to be a tourist attraction with traditional Kyrgyz Yurts & other cultural things, but was abandoned after it was half finished due to the money being lost due to corruption:(.
As we cruised west along the shore of Lake Issyk Kul, we stopped to meet up with another overland truck headed in the opposite direction. A few Kiwi's aboard also so had a good chinwag.
The centre of Kochkor, a small village we stayed on the night of Day 11. Also had our first shower in 4 days!
Lucy giving the wool a good whack! At a local felt making co-operative On the morning of Day 11.
Jack hamming it up in the co-operative shop with a wolf pelt jacket (and available for purchase for $5k).
After stocking up with supplies, we left Kochkor and resumed the journey west. At a mountain pass at 2670m.
Shepherd and his flock.
Getting a better view on the roof of the truck (don't worry, we were wearing seatbelts).
Our campsite on the evening of Day 11.
Socialising in the 'kitchen'.
Cruising out of the valley on the morning of day 12, on the top of the truck again (and almost getting hypothermia!)
A traditional Kyrgyz burial tomb, shaped like a yurt.
Lada Highway Patrol.
At ~3000 metres as we headed our journey west.
As we got higher, more and more snow!
Mountain Valley during the descent.
Our campsite for the night of day 12.
The kitchen for our last night under canvas.
On the morning of day 13, as we headed west again, to the mountain town of Arslanbob.
Kitschy Soviet era Statue.
On the bike.
Arriving at our destination, Arslanbob. Although the town was in Kyrgyzstan, due to the crazy way Stalin set the border, the majority (~80%) of the town are ethnic Uzbeks.
We were split up to stay in different houses of some of the local families. The feast myself, Jack, Ray & Martin got to enjoy on the evening of day 13.
Day 14 we headed up into the hills again for one last hike.
After a rocky climb 500 metres up, we got to see a 80 metre waterfall.
Then back down again for a leisurely stroll through the countryside.
Arslanbob is famous for its walnuts, and it's 11,000 hectares of groves is the world's largest.
Looking down at the town below.
Making our way back down to the town.
Some of the locals.
Final group dinner in Kyrgyzstan before heading to the border of Uzbekistan tomorrow.
Had an early start on Saturday morning for the drive to the border of Uzbekistan, and was on the road again at 7:30pm after pancakes for breakfast. Stopped at a petrol station at 10am to fill up diesel, as well as full up a few jerry cans as apparently the diesel is abit dodgy in Uzbekistan.
At about 11am, we stopped at a town and went to the markets to spend the last of our Kyrgyzstan som. I had about $10 left, and bought a traditional men's Kyrgyz hat for $3 a big bag of chocolate for $3, and a couple of kebabs for lunch.
After more driving we got to the border of Uzbekistan at 1pm. Exiting Kyrgyzstan was a breeze and only took 5 minutes. Uzbekistan was a bit more complicated though. We had to first register out passports, fill out some forms, declare any foreign currency (apparently to make sure we leave with less than when we arrived with), have our bags x-rayed, and then have all our baggage inspected. They were quite strict, even checking the photo's on my camera and ipad. Finally we were all finished after 2 hours & 49 mins (we timed it to see who could guess the closest time).
After only 5 minutes of leaving the border post, we got stopped at a police checkpoint. Apparently they were concerned that the truck was RHD (since it is from UK). We were off again after 10 minutes of discussion though.
Our Uzbek guide then met us, Jalol. He carried a big bag full of local currency to do our money changing. The official bank rate was 2100 soms per dollar, but his was the black market rate of 2400 soms per dollar. The biggest bank note in Uzbekistan is 1000 soms, or about 40 cents, so I got a big wad of 120 notes for my $50.
We then drove on to Ferghana city, with the trip taking another 3 hours. Got stopped again on the way at at another police checkpoint after one of the policeman got suspicious when he saw one of us poking a camera out the window. Got to our hotel at 6pm, having gained an hour from the change in time zones at the border, and checked into our hotel. First chance in getting internet in 9 days, so was good to finally catch up on the news of the world and email etc.
Hotel was pretty flash, much better than anything we stayed in Kyrgyzstan, and good to have a decent shower and not have to use a squat toilet. The government makes all foreigners stay in hotels, so no camping or home stays. You have to get an official receipt for every night you stay too so they can check when you leave the country.
Met up with some of the other guys for dinner, and went to a local restaurant around the corner. Service wasn't too great though, my main never appeared and when I asked they said they didn't have the ingredients, but neglected to tell me:(! After a bit of hand waving, I got a chicken kebab after a bit more waiting.
Got up at 6am for a run for the first time in almost a week. After spending 2 weeks at an elevation of 1500-2400 metres, the 600 metres elevation of Ferghana certainly made things feel a lot easier.
After breakfast at the hotel buffet, we headed off on the road to a silk factory. The plan today is to also drive over a mountain pass to Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. Apparently a few years ago, a bus crashed while going over the pass, and the government decided to ban vehicles carrying more than 8 passengers from going on the road over the pass. Hence today we had a fleet of 6 Chevrolets to ferry us around. Our truck, 'Aziza' is taking a detour via Tajikistan to Tashkent instead.
We arrived at the silk factory at about 9am. As it was Sunday, the factory was idle, but got to see an explanation of how the silk was made. We then headed west again in our convoy of 6 Chevrolets. The drivers were pretty aggressive on the narrow roads, so we nicknamed our convoy of cars 'the Italian job'.
Stopped off at a small city and went to an 18th century Islamic palace for a bit of a tour. At 12:30pm, we stopped at a local restaurant for lunch, and had some layman soup and kebabs. Walked back to our cars, and got bit sidetracked down an alley. Some local ladies were amused to see me, and were laughing talking in Uzbek, and two of them wanted to take photo's with me, so was a bit of an experience.
We were on the road again at 1:30pm, stopped for some snacks on the road, and then headed west until we reached a military checkpoint, and had to line up and get our passports checked again.
Back on the road at 2:45pm, and started in the road on the pass. The road was pretty good, so not sure the reason for the bus ban was worth it. Went through a tunnel at the top, which was at 2200 metres elevation, stopped for a view over the valley below, and then carried onto Tashkent, arriving at about 5:30pm. Quite a modern city compared to Bishkek, no McDonald's, but had Swarovski and Benetton shops in the centre. Checked into our hotel, and then met up for the final group dinner at 7pm. 5 of us are leaving the trip in Tashkent, with 12 others (plus some more people joining the trip in Tashkent) continuing onto Turkmenistan and beyond.
For the short duration in Uzbekistan, instead of the landscape type shots in Kyrgyzstan, I decided to take some portraits of the locals instead:
Went to a local restaurant for dinner in Tashkent, temperature was pretty warm, so we all ate outdoors at a big table. I had an Uzbek salad (tomatoes & diced onions), tasty lamb kebab and potatoes for about $12, abit more than what we were paying in Kyrgyzstan. The final bill for everyone was 320,000 soms and the final stack of bills was at least 10cm high!
They had a bank note counter, the type you normally only see at banks, to count the big wad of cash.
Said farewell to some of the people on the trip, and then went for a walk with some of the others through the city. Managed to get lost a few times, but we managed to find independence square, and had a walk around looking at the monuments. Seemed to be police everywhere, so felt safe, but seemed to reinforce the image of being in a 'police state' too, especially after all the road/police checkpoints we have to go through on the road.
We then managed to find a metro entrance, paid the 800 som, or about 30 cents for a subway token, and caught the train for a few stops. The subway platforms and stations were very beautiful, lots of marble, polished floors, grand ceilings and even chandeliers. Unfortunately photography was banned and their were police everywhere, so couldn't take any photos:(.
We then got back to the hotel after getting a bit lost again. Some of the other guys were flying out at 3am, so had organized to have 'breakfast' at the hotel at midnight (as it was included in the room price). As I had to get up at 4 am for my flight, I did the same and had 'breakfast' with the other guys too, although it confused the hotel concierge abit when I asked for breakfast at 12am and a wake up call at 4am.
Made it to the airport at 5am and took about an hour to go through all the security, and ended my trip to the two Stan's when we took off at 7:30am for the flight back to Dubai.