|if I hear the word short-cut again......|
|is this a short-cut?|
We get a shot of tarmac before finally beginning the slow and steady climb towards Song Kol on more dirt washboard road. At the next camp there's a big stream for washing, shielded from the road. We like to wash as often as we can - it makes sleeping more comfortable and you feel great afterwards - once you've braved the initial chill. As I'm lathering up in the freezing water the soap slips out of my hand and rapidly swims away from me. Desperately I chase after it and with a fine dive forwards into the stream bed I grasp the bar before it disappears. Phew. Standing and turning round I just see at the last moment the soap dish floating past. Damn.
With fresh supplies we are tempted to have a short day and camp beside the river in a picturesque spot. Just before we stop we find a postcard from Chris with a note to any following cyclist - it's a fortnight old. Hannah and Damian have added a footnote. We are just one day behind them. After the day's rest we are feeling good when we reach the switchbacks up to the lake. There's a pass at 3300m and then down we swoop to the lake.
|on the way up|
We meet a few cycle tourists along the way. Dave the Dread from Penrith is the longest travelled. Quite a few people have come here especially for three or four weeks. A young Korean woman wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with "Love Me" camped at the lake last night. "There was no toilet!" she exclaims in horror. She obviously hasn't spotted any marmot holes then.
The descent from Song Kol is a long one on dirt road. It takes us almost the whole day to make it down the valley, with a siesta and swim, descending all the time and with a tailwind until we finally hit the asphalt. It's only then that I discover a wobble on my front wheel - Dino diagnoses a wonky rear tyre and maybe a loose hub on the front wheel, neither of which would have been noticeable on the rough roads we've been riding. Finally, in the town of Kochkor we come across Damian and Hannah. They have stocked up for a backroad route to Bishkek while we have opted for an easier three day ride to the capital - on tarmac.
|lunchtime swim anyone?|
Early Saturday morning in Balykchi we stop for water and food. A man walks into the shop and buys some pop and then the woman behind the counter pours him a large glass of vodka, half of which he knocks back before turning towards the doorway and vomiting on his way out. Charming. I sometimes wonder if half the men here aren't always drunk - quite a contrast with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan which seem to have a more conservative culture.
|folding chairs are essential items for the more mature cycle tourist|
|Jacques puts his bike to good use|