August 9: Jeti-Oghuz Valley
6:54 I’m up at least 30 minutes earlier than anyone else in hopes of heating water on the camp stove and perhaps shaving for the first time in four days. My beauty regime is amended (scrapped) when a Russian family of five shows up and wants to chat. The father is in his 40s and the four kids range in age from about 11 to 13. We didn’t get into details but I assume it’s some sort of blended family. One of the boys speaks rudimentary English and explains that his father won a prestigious karate championship in Montreal in the 80s (not the 1976 Olympics, he confirmed) and now the whole family is touring Russia and the former Republics and putting on judo and karate demonstrations in any town that will host them for a few days. And by “host” I think he means allow them to set up a tent and park their 20-year-old van down by the river while they perform in the town park. They’re very nice and very curious about what a Dragoman Overland trip entails. This isn’t the easiest thing to explain when I don’t speak Russian and the family might collectively know about 100 English words.
8:45 It looks like there will be a slight delay in leaving this morning. The battery on the truck is dead and the nearest garage is at least 100 km away. (Note to Russian family: This is pretty much what a Dragoman trip entails.)
10:20 Duncan figures out that a short in the electrical system caused the battery to drain overnight. Another camper offers to give us a boost and after charging each battery separately we manage to start the truck. Whew!
11:20 One bridge down and four to go.
14:18 After eating lunch by the lake we are back on the road again. There’s no time to waste; the bunny dies in less than an hour.
15:00 We arrive at a pre-arranged meeting spot and are introduced to a local man who has agreed to demonstrate the centuries old Kyrgyzstani tradition of hunting with eagles. The man retrieves his eagle from his parked car and allows us to take many photos with the masked bird. The bird is a female and must wear the mask while being handled by strangers. After about 30 minutes the man hands the bird over to our guide and tells her to take the bird up into the nearby hills. He then returns to the car and retrieves a small and very innocent looking rabbit. The rabbit is placed in the open field, about 700 meters from the bird who is now halfway up the hill. The man then trudges up the hill, removes the bird’s mask and sets it free. We watch from a spot on the flat land, about 10 meters from where the bunny is happily munching on grass. Suddenly the eagle swoops down and there is a sharp cry from the rabbit. It’s all over in a few seconds. Some of the people in our group were apprehensive about watching this. In his defence, the man explains that he makes a living by using the eagle to hunt foxes in the winter and he must keep the eagle “sharp” during the summer months, hence a few bunnies must die. I’m not sure I buy this explanation but it’s tradition around here and it’s not my place to judge without a lot more information.