Day 59 - Tuesday 30th May - Karakol to Bishkek

Cooking breakfast

Cooking breakfast

The day broke clear, sunny and cool. We had all slept well despite the shared bunkroom accommodation with a chorus of snorers on the male side. A few of the team left an hour early, deciding that it would be more comfortable to walk out than the down hill ride in the truck. The balance of the team decided the inconvenience was out weighed by the breakfast of rice porridge and fresh local bread which is cooked in oil over the wood fired stove. Spread with home made apricot jam and tea it was a welcome distraction for what lay ahead.

I rode down in the same as I came up the hill in. This time I was looking over the downhill side of the road. The chance to look for squirrels in the trees was the best diversion we could find to avoid looking over the sheer drops. The fresh air and walk would have been much more pleasant than being tossed about.

It was raining when we reached Karakol. Our departure was delayed for an hour as Ginger reinstalled the repaired mounting brackets for the rear shock absorbers. So most of the team ended up down town scavenging for lunch and enjoying morning coffee and cake in Karakol Koffee. It was also a chance to examine the Lenin statue at close hand.

Loaded with fresh bread, cheese and a BBQ chook we set off with everyone looking for shipping container buildings. It seems they are a preferred method of construction. The best was a three story container building which was being faced with pink granite tiles.

We soon encountered Isik Kol. Despite what its name sound like, the water in the lake is warm, around 18c. Its reported as the 2nd largest alpine lake in the world behind Titicaca in South America. The countryside soon turned dry and sandy. The guide books had referred to the shore line as being dotted with clusters of villages of Russian dachas (summer houses). It would seem that economic times had devoured these. Most were empty and many looked to have been long abandoned, not an uncombed sight in Kyrgyzstan.

We had passed a number of factories since crossing the border. All were closed and in abandoned decay. They apparently did not last long after the Soviets cut the country lose in 1990 and it became independent. Presumably they had been propped up under the Soviet regime, but once the need to be self supporting arose, the challenge appeared unsurmountable.

The potholed road improved considerably after we left the town of Balikchi at the western end of Isik Kol, which gave us a chance to drive a bit faster. But we were constantly being teased by very slow speed signs and instructions from Akay (our guide) to obey them. We soon found out why. We figured that the quality of the road was being funded by speeding fines. Every 5k police were stationed with speed cameras for the entire 180k section. Burgundy was the first car to test the police and negotiated his own fine down from many thousand cum (the local currency) to the equivalent of $20.

Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan has a population of nearly 1 million. It sprawls and at 6.00 in the evening we hit peak hour traffic as we crossed the city to our hotel. A new granite edifice, not the hotel we had booked for some reason that was not satisfactorily explained, but there was no secure parking as we had specified. We lined the cars up on the street, in front of the hotel. Given the amount of attention they attract, and you can not lock them, this is not an entirely satisfactory situation. It was overcome when the hotel promised to station a security man on the street overseeing the cars for the entire night. He was standing there unsmiling,  when we went to bed and there when we rose in the morning.