August 6: Karakol, Kyrgyzstan
7:45 The others head to a nearby lake and hot springs for the day and night. I’m worried about the prospects of straying too far from a toilet, especially if it involves piling into one of two old Russian army trucks for a two hour drive over very rough roads. (And I use the term “roads” very, very loosely.) Instead, I will stick around Hotel Amir, explore the town of Karakol, and if I’m feeling up to it by dinner time I may head back to the Lonely Planet recommended restaurant for more cheese sticks. I can’t imagine a doctor ever prescribing a pound of cheese, but under the circumstances it might be just what I need right now.
August 7: Karakol, Kyrgyzstan
10:00 The others have returned from their adventure in the Russian army trucks. I rarely play the “better safe than sorry” card but in this case I think it was in everyone’s best interest.
13:05 We set out on a whopping 40 km drive to our next campsite. The roads around here remind me of Mongolia, thus a 40 km drive could very well take up to five hours. Yes, five hours.
15:20 We arrive at the first of five timber bridges we must cross. In the interest of safety, we all get off the truck while Duncan drives over the bridge. We will repeat this four more times in the next hour.
18:30 We make it to the campsite without incident and the cook group is ready to serve dinner when a local horseman shows up at camp. He senses that I’m interested in his very well behaved horse and motions that I should take him for a spin. It would be impolite to refuse, wouldn’t it?
(Note: Dragoman insists that we wear helmets when riding but in this case it was just for two minutes and I really didn’t think about it. I promise to wear one tomorrow when we we’ll ride for about three hours.)
18:00 My cook group produces fajitas for 24 people. I won’t sugar coat this; they were passable at best. I’d definitely send them back if I was served something at a fine Mexican dining establishment such as Taco Bell.
21:20 I’m laying in my tent, finishing off Anthony Bourdain’s A Chef’s Tour by flashlight. My tent is positioned furthest from the rushing river yet the sound of the water is almost hypnotic. I’m afraid this will be another early night.
August 8: Jeti-Oghuz Valley
7:45 We will spend a second night in this location so for once we don’t have to take a tent down and pack everything on the truck before eight bells.
9:30 Another cook group produces hot oatmeal and caramelized peaches. They may regret this after cleaning the pot but it sure as hell tastes better than one-year-old Captain Crunch.
15:00 There were no casualties on this afternoon’s trail ride, although that isn’t to say that everything was all smiles and chuckles. There were several very nervous riders and it probably didn’t help the situation when a couple of 10-year-old boys brought up the rear by yelling, whooping, yee-hawing, cracking whips, and doing just about anything they can think of to make horses go faster save from letting off firecrackers.
19:00 Our take-out dinner arrives at the campsite. Dragoman arranged for a local family to cook a whole lamb in their clay oven and it arrives right on time, accompanied by several bowls of roasted vegetables. Duncan and Helen (Dragoman crew) break open the bottles of rum and gin they purchased a few months earlier in Myanmar. The good stuff goes for about $1.50 a bottle in Myanmar. Rot-gut can be had for a buck. Of course we start with the latter which I suspect is just one production step removed from being classified as anti-freeze.