After picnic lunch in the yurt, we proceed along the lake to the village of Tamga and a guest house run by a Russian mountain climber. In addition to cold gritty rooms without locks, it shares many of the characteristics I have so enjoyed in some of Spain's finer Pilgrim hostels -- random hot water, smelly bathrooms, mattresses that you really don't want to think about. It's the only option in the area. Fortunately dinner is in a private home down the road -- and quite good.
We continue along the lake, stopping periodically to walk by the shore, explore a cemetery, view a post Soviet collapse boondoggle where a corrupt developer got World Bank money and began construction of a Kyrgyzstan cultural theme park before absconding with millions. All along the road we continuously pass trucks with cyanide and other supplies for the Canadian gold mine near Karakol, a project that has recently caused uprising among locals who see the damage it's doing to the roads without generating economic benefits for them. Before lunch, we visit the home and workshop of a famous yurt maker for a demonstration of the traditional construction methods. The only nod to modernization is a rusted metal steamer (wood-fired) to soften the wood before bending. Next is lunch served in a traditional style yurt at a community based tourism home belonging to a friendly multigenerational family who lead a very traditional, rural life. Decked out with our cameras, cell phones, special trekking clothes and shoes, I feel like an alien, acutely aware of the disparities between us. Afterwards, we make a long drive to the Chon Kemin Valley where we stay in a former cooperative farm that's been turned into a conference center and hotel blending modern amenities with traditional, rustic style. We've collected our tips to present to Ulan and Alexander at dinner. Alexander ( translated by Ulan) thanks us and we ask for a small speech from this quiet man. He blushes profusely and, after a moment, says that he is very happy to have been our driver, he loves his job and is proud of what he does, he hopes we have liked our time in Kyrgyzstan and hopes that we have a good driver in Uzbekistan. His words are so sincere and humble, so genuine that several of us in the group get a bit teary.
Our last morning begins with a hike through the small village in this fertile valley, up to a hilltop for the view, down again crossing a stream several times, back throuhg town town to a large level field to watch a demonstration of buzkashi. Buzkashi is played in teams on horseback and the object is to get possession of the headless goat carcass, carry it as fast as you can (while evading the other team members who are tyring to stop you and steal the carcass back) to your team's goal post and throw it into the designated receptacle. Getting initial possession of the goat carcass that's lying on the ground involves crowding of horses and riders, leaning, stretching, blocking, pulling, shoving. The skill of the horses and riders - and their unity - is extraordinary. After the game, the teams join together in a feast of (tenderized) goat meat.
After lunch we load up for the last time and drive quietly to the airport outside Bishkek for our flight to Tashkent. I'll save the details of Central Asian air transit for my next post from toasty Tashkent.