Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Below Too-Ashuu Tunnel

I had high gastronomic hopes for today. It all started well with a fine breakfast of pancakes. Fresh fish caught from the adjacent river was supposed to be next, for lunch. However no such cafй as those that appeared so frequently in the afternoon of the previous day were on the upper section of the pass road. I made up for it, partially, with an early lunch of bread & jam, both delicious even if second best.

The road up continued to be lovely. At around 2000m trees disappeared & it became like a high alpine road though the grass had less verdant green colour. Yurts started to appear with riders on horseback managing their herds of cows & flocks of sheep, though mostly the animals seemed to left to do their own thing. There were no fences. There were large numbers of horses roaming around. The honey that was for sale in abundance in the lower slopes was being replaced by kymys, or fermented mares' milk. I wondered how a horse is milked, surely it would be easier to make it from cows' milk. It certainly tasted very similar to beverages that I'd drunk in Turkey, Iran & Tajikistan that were made from cows' milk.

In the last couple of kilometres of the pass road it suddenly clouded over & started to pour with rain then hail. It rather took me by surprise. I had a jacket on & thinking that it wouldn't last & that by just continuing upwards I'd keep warm. The rain kept up & I got colder & colder. Rain & hail at 3000m isn't nice. Only once I started the long cold descent did I realise that I was losing core body temperature & proceeded to put on lots of clothes. It was only when I got out of the cold & stopped in yurt/cafй & ate something did I properly warm back up. Over the pass was a wide pasture-filled valley. There were yurts everywhere & all of them were selling kymys. It wasn't long before the Sun came back out & the memory of being unpleasantly cold was gone.

Every time I stopped or slowed down swarms of tiny insects gathered around me. Apart from being able to home in on me they seemed to have no directional control. As they zizzed around they'd dive-bomb or simply crash into me then immediately depart. They didn't even seem interested in biting me. They were extremely annoying, getting caught in the hair on my arms or legs or flying into my ears. It wasn't until my out-of-schedule digestive system forced me to expose some sensitive skin did I realise that they did bite. I figured the sooner I became 'regular' in the morning, before these flies woke up, the better.

I camped below the last mountain barrier separating me from Bishkek. Tomorrow I have a 800m climb (steep I think) then a long descent during which I'll loose over 2000m. I'm very much looking forward to Bishkek. It means doing a clothes wash for the first time since Samarqand, eating well, showering, shaving & getting a hair cut. Above all it means a break from the journey as I'll be flying to Geneva for 2 weeks to see Freddie. The journey will resume with me heading South to China.

I cycled 100 km in 7 hours & 47 minutes
Total so far 9100 km in 132 days
GPS Coordinates of end point - N 42°17.265, E 73°49.913

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