Day 108 (1): How a good day can turn bad and a bad day can turn good

Song Kol Travel Blog

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Next morning the jailoo looked much more peaceful


The next morning the weather had cleared and the whole valley looked absolutely gorgeous. I had slept terrifically, despite being a little cold (I had come prepared for the cold, but not for the damp, and everything in the yurt had been damp due to the weather).

We set out with five people: Sophia and I started walking, while Stalbeck, Sophia's guide and his girlfriend set out on horseback. I wanted to walk at least to the top of the pass, in preparation for my Himalayas trip in a few month's time. Even though this 3400m pass pales in comparison with what awaits me in Northern India, at least it would be some practice.
Practice I needed badly, as it turned out. Even at this altitude I was already struggling with the oxygen intake. Imagine how it would be at 5000 metres!

I made slow, but steady progress.

View from the top of the pass
Actually, it looked worse than it was. I went up slowly, but never was I really struggling. I usually walk at a fast pace, but as it turns out going uphill I slow down a bit.
The horsemen were considerably impatient. Sophia explained to me it had been like this for the past week. She had booked a trekking, but Kyrgyz people don't really walk. The horses had been meant as packing animals only, but her guide (and his girlfriend) spent most of the time horseriding, rather than walking and Sophia would just have to keep up with their pace.

As I finally made it to the top I said my goodbyes to Sophia and her guides. They would be going to lake Song Köl, like me, but would be staying at a different camp, so they were taking a different route to the lake.
I was sorry to see them leave.
Made it to the top!
I had quite enjoyed Sophia's company. Or any company, for that matter, as it had become clear that spending an evening in a yurt on your own is not the most entertaining of pastimes.

We agreed to keep in touch, since we would both be in Karakol, in the east of Kyrgyzstan, in a couple days time. She had already pre-booked a trekking there, but I might be able to join her.

I mounted my horse again and Stalbeck and I made our way down to the lake, which lay glimmering down in the valley. The views were once again wonderful.
Unfortunately I can't say the same about the ride. Yesterday all had been fine, but after a night sleeping in a cold, damp yurt, my muscles had tensed up considerably and every step the horse did hurt me.
Walking to Song Kol lake


We made a quick stop at a yurt on the way, where I got some kymys forced down my throat (you can't really refuse such a kind offer from a local, and explaining that you absolutely loathe their national drink won't be doing you much good either).
After this break I told Stalbeck I wanted to walk again and he was visibly agitated by my decision. Sod him, I had booked a combined horse and walk trek and my butt hurt, so I was going to be walking for a few hours now.

I don't know if this had anything to do with what happened next, but at 12 noon sharp he stopped the horses and told me this was as far as he would go. Err, wot?? I didn't understand, wasn't he supposed to drop me off at a yurt at the lake shore where I would be spending the night?

He explained to me that he was only getting paid for 2.
Song Kol lake in the distance
5 days and he needed a full day to ride back so this was his end point. He showed me the piece of paper on which it was written that he was getting 2.5 days payment and that he had to bring me to a certain pasture, which he claimed was the one we were standing now.
But wait a minute, how was I going to get to my yurt? He told me that I had to walk for about 15km along the lake shore and ask around at yurts which one was mine. He had to be kidding. Unfortunately he wasn't. But what about my luggage, I tried. I wasn't packed for trekking, how was I going to carry my luggage to the yurt. “That is your problem,” he grinned, “maybe you can find a car to give you a lift”. I looked around, surprisingly the jailoo wasn't as deserted as I'd expected. Plenty of cars were braving the dirt treks and drove in between the yurts.
The pastures at Song Köl
But still, this did not deter from the fact that he was a guide and a guide should NEVER leave their customers stranded halfway down a mountain. This simply is not done.

But what about those 2.5 days? I had paid for 3. Of which one day was indeed needed for him to ride back. Why did he only get paid for two and a half? He told me I should have booked with Shepherd's Life, another travel agency in Kochkor that he usually works for. So this was something between him and Jailoo travel then. Why was I being penalised for that? And besides, even if it was 2.5 days. We had done half a day yesterday and half a day today, so where did that other half day go? He told me he only had one horse and had to hire my horse for a full day yesterday.
My guide walking out on me...


None of it made sense, but whatever I did, he would not budge. In the end he just got on his horse and rode off, leaving me there in the middle of nowhere.

I picked up my two bags and started walking in the general direction of where he had pointed. I had no intention trying to find my yurt stay now, I was going to try and find a car back to Kochkor and pay a little visit to Jailoo travel about this all.

I walked for about an hour to get to the first yurt at the lake shore. In this hour I had to ford a river twice (knee-deep in the freezing water) and by the time I reached the yurt it had started to hail. Obviously this didn't improve my mood the slightest bit. Fortunately it was all to change for the better again.

I arrived at the yurt and was happy to see there was a car parked.
The yurt of the family where I ended up having lunch
I greeted the family and in my best Russian I asked them if it would be possible to hire their car to get to Kochkor. They must have misunderstood me, because the response was something like: “Kochkor? Yeah, sure, we go there this afternoon at 4:30, do you want a lift?”

It was close to 1 PM, I suppose I could stand waiting a few hours. The family promptly invited me for lunch inside their yurt, where a huge pot was brewing on the stove, containing various body parts of a sheep. The pieces of meat were distributed amongst the family (10 people in total) with the best pieces going to the elderly and the foreigner. I must say, it is somewhat off-putting watching someone nibbling on a cheekbone, but I have to admit that the meat was really delicious. This was definitely the best meal I've had in Kyrgyzstan.
Having lunch with my saviours


I spent the rest of the afternoon taking a nap out in the sun (the rains had subsided) while the family was busy shearing their sheep. Or, well, shearing.. is it still called shearing when you use scissors?
Just as promised, shortly after 16:30 we left for Kochkor. The car was an Audi 100, of which there are thousands driving around in Kyrgyzstan. No idea how these cars got here, but these four-wheel drive sedans are excellent cars for the tough roads in this country.
In total there were six of us: the owner of the car, the father of the family, his three sons and me. It was slightly cramped in the back of the car, but we managed.

The car wasn't managing as well and the engine overheated several times on the way. This meant we had some extended breaks on the way up to the pass.
Posing with the family at the top of the Ak Tash pass
I didn't mind, the views were terrific. At the top of the pass we stopped for some photos as well. They really wanted to have some photos taken together with that tall tourist and I equally wanted some pictures of the family.

After almost three hours driving we reached Kochkor. They dropped me off in front of the Jailoo Travel office. We said goodbye with hugs and everything. It had been such a special afternoon, that I almost forgot what had happened in the morning. Seeing the Jailoo logo on the front of the building brought it all back though. I walked inside, ready to wage war...

Biedjee says:
As they say, every dark cloud has a silver lining. Had Stalbeck not left me that day, I would never had had the experience of having lunch with this family. And in the end, the second half of this day was one of the best experiences on my trip through Kyrgyzstan.
Posted on: Nov 08, 2010
bert1978 says:
Sounds like you had a bad deal. What a nice family you met though. That's an experience you would not have had otherwise.
Posted on: Nov 07, 2010
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Next morning the jailoo looked muc…
Next morning the jailoo looked mu…
View from the top of the pass
View from the top of the pass
Made it to the top!
Made it to the top!
Walking to Song Kol lake
Walking to Song Kol lake
Song Kol lake in the distance
Song Kol lake in the distance
The pastures at Song Köl
The pastures at Song Köl
My guide walking out on me...
My guide walking out on me...
The yurt of the family where I end…
The yurt of the family where I en…
Having lunch with my saviours
Having lunch with my saviours
Posing with the family at the top …
Posing with the family at the top…
Views over the valley
Views over the valley
Views over the valley
Views over the valley
Heading up the pass
Heading up the pass
Approaching Song Köl lake
Approaching Song Köl lake
The top of the pass
The top of the pass
The top of the pass
The top of the pass
Having lunch with my saviours
Having lunch with my saviours
Taking a nap
Taking a nap
Song Köl
Song Köl
Edelweiss, sounds more impressive …
Edelweiss, sounds more impressive…
The roads at Song Köl
The roads at Song Köl
Shearing the sheep. Is it still ca…
Shearing the sheep. Is it still c…
Song Köl
Song Köl
Song Köl
Song Köl
In some countries I could get arre…
In some countries I could get arr…
Snow on the Ak Tash pass to Kochkor
Snow on the Ak Tash pass to Kochkor
View from the Ak Tash pass
View from the Ak Tash pass
View from the Ak Tash pass
View from the Ak Tash pass
View from the Ak Tash pass
View from the Ak Tash pass
Song Kol
photo by: Biedjee