God help me, I’m 66. Who knows what the next year will bring? It seems a miracle sometimes that I've made it this far. Still, if you have to have a birthday, Kyrgyzstan is a pretty good place to celebrate it.
We drove around the lake from last night's campsite and then carried on over the high pass that takes us from South Kyrgyzstan to the North of the country.
We passed mobs of sheep, cattle and horses, all being driven up the gorge to the summer grazing over the pass. Most of the houses we passed had beehives and there were numerous roadside stalls selling honey.
The pass was long and winding. The temperature got progressively colder until it was downright freezing in the truck. Windows and other vents were closed, and still the chill slipped in. We emerged at the top into a stark landscape, still largely covered with snow in spite of it being June.
We descended, and within a couple of kilometres the snow had melted, revealing magnificent pasture lands. We saw our first yurts and their associated stock grazing on the grass beside them.
The farmers spend summer up here with their families, the children having a long school holiday, until they all return to their villages sometime in September before the snow falls. The children run free in the country, herd the animals and generally have a wonderful time.
We’d enjoyed the sight so much that after we stopped for lunch at 2.30, Neil decided we’d drive another 160kms or so to a campsite that would allow us to spend time with these semi-nomadic shepherds and learn about their way of life.
This wasn’t a complete success as it meant we didn’t reach the site until 7.30pm and still had to put tents up and the group doing dinner had to start preparing it.
I can't believe how varied the landscape is in this country. After we'd left the pass behind us, we found ourselves in a rocky, arid landscape. The different colours of the sandstone is lovely, and we frequently passed exotic Muslim graveyards. I'd have loved to have stopped and explored them, but of course we had to keep moving.
For a portion of the drive we were allowed to climb up into the roof top seats of the truck and take in the view from up there. We were safety belted onto the high seats, wrapped up in jackets and rugs, and drven slowly for several kilometres down the gravel road. It was hopeless for photographs as the road was too bumpy, but it was a great experience.
Dinner was served about 10.00 by the exhausted, stressed chefs, and by the time we’d eaten, cleaned up and turned in, I was more than willing to turn my back on the world. It’s been the first time I’ve felt grumpy on this trip. Hunger and tiredness will do that. It was also bitterly cold once the sun went down. It was warm enough in my sleeping bag and liner, but barely. All too clearly I imagined it would only take a small drop in the temperature to leave me feeling cold. Cavan has a real cold and took a long time to settle as his cough became worse in the chill air. Tomorrow I’ll be ditching my cotton pyjamas and wearing my merino long johns!
Still, it was a wonderful birthday. I split a bottle of wine with Myrna, a young Dutch woman who shared her birthday with me, before heading for bed.
Herder and his family
Cavan, warm and snug
Herds of stock being driven up the gorge
The bus had to squeeze carefully by all the animals
The top of the pass
Our lunch spot
A derelict bridge
Loading firewood for the camp fire
Riding on the top of the truck