After Tamga, I feel ready to conquer the world again, very, very slowly. The road along the south shore of lake Issy-Kul, the second largest alpine lake in the world, is flat and lined with ripe apricot trees. High mountains give a dramatic backstop to the lake and grassy spots along the Lakeshore make it easy to stop for a break.
I end up cycling a short day and staying at a guesthouse above a grocery store. The owners insist I join them for dinner and so my mostly recovered intestines are treated to a meal of fried fish, apricots, and peaches. The mother knew a little English and dinner conversation kept me giggling into my tea and her son shaking his head, "I love you Elizabeth! I love you fish! I love you coffee! I love you, love you, love you cigarette!!"
The next morning I decided to add a side trip up a canyon to Jeti-Oguz to see the "Broken Heart" and "7 Bulls" rocks. The canyon was of course stunning and has a sanatorium in the town. The photos advertising the spa made it look like a terrifying experience with enemas and electroshock therapy, so I lunched alongside the river instead.
Finally to Karakol, my final cycling goal. I found the perfect hotel complete with a dragon side entrance and started switching my mindset to hiking. First, I found a rental company in town that wanted to buy my bicycle, even with no brakes. My bike, though great for this trip, was
never going home with me. Four years ago a bike mechanic told me I should give it to a high schooler that was thinking about trying mountain biking, and it hasn't increased in value since then. The rental company was thrilled to have an American made bike and had the ability to fix it, I was thrilled to not have to deal with the logistics of getting the bike back to the capital in a passenger packed mini van, and my bike was thrilled to live out the rest of it's days in the Kyrgyz mountains.
I strapped my tent and handlebar bar bag to my little backpack and set off into the Tien Shan mountains for 4 days. The main draw is the beautiful Ak-Suu lake. So I made my way up horse filled valleys, past yurt camps, and raging rivers to the lake. Blue, green, and above 12,000', the lake is well worth a visit, though very popular with tourists and locals alike.
I had decided to make a loop hike which meant climbing the 12,900' Ak-Suu pass. I shared some chocolate and conversation about beer and politics with some wonderful Belgians at the top, and with weather closing in, I made my way down. Once at the valley floor, I asked a guest house owner if the bridge down valley was washed out. He asked me where I was going and when I told him over the mountains back to karakol, he said I should take a car back instead because I was alone, and there are bears. Now grouchy and no better informed, I went across the river where I was invited to pitch my tent, join the guesthouse guests for dinner, and yes indeed the bridge was washed out, grouchiness gone.
The next morning, I started out on a cow trail, hoping it would lead me along the river, but instead it took me up a quiet valley, to a steep pass where i was able to look across and see my route. While there wasn't a trail, there was a way over the next ridge into my intended valley. Of course I met a shepherd who asked me if I was alone. Replying yes, I asked him if he was also alone. He stopped, blinked, then threw back his head and laughed. He asked me where I was headed and I pointed up the steep mountain side. He nodded, told me to angle my way slightly then thumped his chest, pointed to me, and gave me a thumbs up and a smile. Thrilled in his confidence, I set off. The going was endless up, but I was greeted at the top of the ridge by yellow poppies swaying in the breeze and a face full of glaciers. From the ridge I could see rolling green hanging valleys all the way down to to karakol and the lake sparkling in the distance.
I just had to stay one more night up high, so I pitched my tent and spent the evening watching cows stroll past and light play on the ridges. Maybe it was because this was my last foray into the mountains, but I thought this valley was the loveliest of all of I'd been in. After a late morning spent eating the rest of my food and drinking tea, I slowly walked down the valley past karakol's biggest and best (only) ski resort. With very sore calves and a happy mindset, I wandered back to Karakol to my dragon head hotel and a much needed shower.