August 5: Ak-Tuz, Kyrgyzstan
8:00 We’re back on the truck for an eight hour drive to the city of Karakol.
8:57 We pull into the town of Cholpon-Ata and spot the familiar green and yellow colours of a BP gas station just up ahead. Alas, signs can be very deceiving in Kyrgyzstan (as those who recently ate at KFC can attest). I’d love to stay for a night and catch the circus which is in town but spontaneous decisions like this really aren’t possible with group travel. An hour at the market is the best we can do. I came very close to driving a very old and very drunk man home in his 1971 Lada but it wasn’t clear how far he needed to go so I declined the offer. I think I’ll live to regret that one. Just think of the hilarity that may have ensued.
9:50 We are now driving along the southern shore of Issyk Kul Lake, about 150 km north of the Kyrgyzstan-China border. According to Wikipedia, “Issyk Kul is the tenth largest lake in the world by volume (though not in surface area), and the second largest saline lake after the Caspian Sea. Although it is surrounded by snow-capped peaks, it never freezes; hence its name, which means “hot lake” in the Kyrgyz language.” Another Wikipedia entry states: “Many historians believe that the lake was the point of origin for the Black Death that plagued Europe and Asia during the early and mid-14th century. The lake’s status as a byway for travellers allowed the plague to spread across these continents via medieval merchants who unknowingly carried infested vermin along with them.”
13:10 We stop by the beach and prepare lunch. The infested vermin are long gone.
14:00 Driving through the lowlands to the south of the lake, I am reminded of the farmland near my parent’s old cottage on Lake Simcoe near Brechin, Ontario. We pass farm stands brimming with apricots, black cherries, raspberries, smoked trout, and home baking. If it weren’t for the donkey carts this place could pass for Gamebridge or Bolsover or Beaverton. (Yes, Bolsover is a small town in Ontario and home to the racehorse Balsover Bill.)
16:00 We have settled into a very nice hotel in Karakol and set out in search of dinner. There’s a place about two blocks away that comes highly recommended by Lonely Planet (the only such place in town) so we check it out. A veritable feast of fried cheese, fresh homemade bread, Caesar salad, assorted grilled meats, mounds of mashed potatoes, and three large beers comes to 620 com or $13.30 CDN. I would have been happy with about 70% less food.