"Maybe this time...I'll be lucky"
After our night in Tash Rabat, we drove two hours to Naryn, the main city (town) in the Naryn region of Kyrgyzstan. I mean, if another town claimed the title from Naryn when the region is named after it I bet there'd be some dramaaaa. The driver dropped us at a guest house used by the NoviNomad tour company, where we were to meet our driver for the week, Alexandr. I'm spelling it like that because it's the Russian version and they do that e-less business and it helps you do the accent right. A very Russian (gruff, imposing...not huggable) man came out and said his name was Sacha and he would be our driver for the next 8 days. We were like no our driver is named Alexandr I'm getting so good at saying it in a Russian accent don't take that away from me! (It was important that we got our right driver because we didn't pay the (exorbitant) extra price for a guide but were promised an English-speaking driver who could generally do both jobs.) Sacha was not amused and was like, 'yeah, Sacha, Alexandr, same thing'. Both of us said ohhh riiiiight because we forgot that Sacha is the diminutive/informal/cutesey nickname for Alexandr. I DON'T GET IT EITHER BUT IT'S TRUE. (I then sang the relevant part from "The Great Comet" in my head literally the entire rest of the day: "Countess Natalya Ilyinichna Rostova" "You must call me Natasha"..."Sofia Alexandrovna Rostova" "You must call me Sonia".) So Mr. I-Won't-Make-Small-Talk-Or-Be-Warm-And-Jovial-But-It's-Just-Because-I'm-Like-So-Russian-Not-Because-I'm-Rude packed our stuff in his SUV, where he had a case of water bottles (amazing already), and drove us the far, far distance of...across the street. Our first stop was the Naryn Museum - not wasting any time, just gasoline.
After lunch, we saw the Naryn mosque, which is covered with pretty blue tiles. It's a very quick stop because you generally just look from the front and that's that.
Sacha bought a watermelon and I was sooo excited to see if Kyrgyz watermelon was as good as Xinjiang watermelon. Spoiler: It was. We began our first long drive of the week, towards Song Kul Lake, way up in the mountains at 3000+ meters (almost 10000 feet!). Yes, our first night at Tash Rabat was just slightly higher, but we drove down to get to Naryn and now had to go back up. I'm so into elevation now. Song Kul is right smack in the middle of Kyrgyzstan, so we were already covering some serious ground. Fun fact: Song Kul is covered in snow 200 days of the year, and the SUMMER average temperature is 50 degrees. FAHRENHEIT. Shit's cold. First, we would stop at a beautiful waterfall on the way. We parked at a random spot halfway up a mountain and hiked to the waterfall and it was beautiful! I was so happy: we had broken up a long drive with a hike, and I had fruit. Already better than I feared.
Dinner was mix of the same vegetables as always now, plus a plate of kasha and rice. I was super pumped to get kasha; it's actually a good protein source. It was an awkward as ass dinner though, because it was communal, as all future ones would be, and they tell you where to sit, and I was seated in the very center of a semi-circle. Z wasn't feeling well so skipped it, so here I was in the middle of 30 some people just being weird and awkward and silent. The two groups on either side of me were both big tour groups, so they were very talkative among themselves but also very curious about me and just staring like hey what's your deal? To get to my position I had to step on everyone already seated (you sit on the floor in the yurts) because the table was around the edge of the yurt. I also left early because hell if I was going to sit and be stared at any longer than I needed to and so upon leaving I also stepped on 15 people. Fun times.
"Into the woods and who can tell what's waiting on the journey"
The next morning, I was in no mood. The car was locked and I was out of water, and the yurt owner people didn't have any, and Sacha was nowhere to be found. Finally one of his guide friends told us he was still sleeping. LUCKY HIM. I was so tired and thirsty and miserableh. Someone got Sacha and he opened the car and I drank 2 liters right there in front of him. So, why were we up and he wasn't? Well, today, Day 2, we would hike 10 kilometers (pretty long!) to our next yurt camp with a local Kyrgyz guide, giving Sacha the day off, plus most of tomorrow off while we did another long hike with the local guide to the next-next camp, where Sacha would be waiting. There were no roads or paths or anything so navigating around the mountains required local expertise, from someone born in this area. The local guide didn't speak English, which really pissed me off at NoviNomad because they never told us this part. Luckily he spoke Russian (everyone does here) so we personally were fine but no one at NoviNomad knew that we knew any Russian (they don't know that we know they know we know!) so they were okay with their tourists just not being able to communicate? FIE.
Luckily there was a dog.
So we left our Song Kul yurt camp (bye toilets) and began our 10K trek to our next yurt camp in the jailoo of Kelemche. Jailoo is the name of the type of landscape, these sprawling summer pastures in the mountains that are used for cattle and all kinds of pasture activities, I don't know. I know you're probably like 10 kilometers is nothing hush your face, but it was mostly uphill! Ahhh! But it was pretty. OH so, this was supposed to be a horse trek to Kelemche jailoo, following by another even longer horse trek tomorrow from Kelemche to Kyzart village, our next destination. But after Mongolia we emailed NoviNomad and we were like NOPE CUT THE HORSES NO MORE HORSE RIDING WE WILL JUST WALK XOXO gossip girl. Luckily the very helpful Madina, who helped us plan everything, said that it was doable by foot, even though she didn't really understand why we were so vehemently anti-horse riding all of a sudden. (Horse riding sucks.)
Our local guide was named Melis, I'm definitely not spelling it right but it sounded like that. He was pretty great except he was clearly amused by how slow we were compared to him. We didn't grow up climbing these mountains like you did, MELIS! He rode a horse because he had no problem with them and put our day packs and water in the saddle bags (sorry horsie I'll drink fast). And we just trudged behind him. Kind of hilarious.
So I was complaining a lot about how gross this camp was, and Z got quiet and said, "Hey...were you a Girl Scout?" Um have we met? Hell no I wasn't a Girl Scout, I wasn't even a Brownie! I just went to all the Disney on Ice shows with the Brownie troop because I was friends with the leader's kid! I have such great Disney souvenir cups from my Icees. Anyway, so no, not a Girl Scout. He then asked, "Wait, have you ever camped before?" Again, nice to meet you! No I haven't camped, like in tents and stuff? With the ELEMENTS? f that noise! I never even had to go on the obligatory one-night-in-the-woods camping trip at overnight camp! Z got even quieter and then said, "I wish I knew that before this trip."
Apparently the picnic wasn't our actual lunch, because soon we were called to lunch in the food yurt with the family who lived there and a bunch of random shepherds. It was AWK. They were all speaking Kyrgyz to each other and we just kinda sat there. The food was good, some kind of yummy cabbage and potato filled crepe-y thing. I liked that everyone was given the same meal, like because of my veganism I made everyone skip meat for a meal. Yay! I think I heard them say that I eat a lot of watermelon though.
I was excited that the outhouse area, despite being up THE STEEPEST HILL EVER, had a real toilet inside. Unfortunately, the toilet was broken, so we were to use the regular out shithouse farther up the steep af hill. This hellshack was tied for first with worst campsite toilet I'd ever seen, so THAT wasn't great! Luckily our yurt was at the end of the camp so I didn't have to worry about anyone seeing me out there. Except a cow and a few dogs at night who were REALLY unhappy that I was in their space. Dudes.
But it was all okay, because my little Bearnutfriend was there.
Near the camp was a natural spring that we could fill our water bottles with! We were really hesitant about whether it was actually safe to drink; Melis said it was but our soft Western tumnuses require different levels of safety than hardier folk. But despite actually seeing horses drinking from the same place, we did not get sick! Yippee! The water poured out superfast from a little spot above a creek and it was a fun adventure to try to fill the jugs without falling in the creek.
Part 2 soon!