Andrew took some photos of the clever little complex the owner has built up here. He has a restaurant area with dining booths, a number of yurts to sleep in, as well as a children’s playground. Despite this, we were his only guests. It is down a tiny laneway ,so it is not easy to find.
Inside the yurt!
At this stage, we have to say that the most invaluable tool we have with us, apart from our tough cars, is our GPS navigation system. These apps on our i-pads and i-phones, enable us to navigate not only between towns, but through the maze of streets to our destination within them. There are usually no signs pointing to destinations. It is very difficult to find street signs. There are amazingly confusing zig zag routes out of many towns. Totally non-sensical. Without the GPS maps we would be hopelessly lost. Major roads to major towns can start in a small laneway! Big accolades to “Pocket Earth”, “maps.me”, “forever maps” and “citymaps2go”
We set off from Naryn heading for lake Song Kul. The roads became atrocious again. The usual! By the time we got to the lake turn-off it was late morning. Another winding mountain road climb of 1000m awaited us. There were multiple local people selling drinks, trinkets, food and guide services at the turnoff.
We looked at the mountain peaks. They were shrouded in cloud. Reluctantly we decided that the one hour and a half hour road to the lake in such conditions, to see nothing because of cloud, was a fruitless journey. We turned our backs on Lake Song Kul and and with time pressing, we headed for the other jewel of a lake, Issyk-Kul.
Issyk-Kul, is the worlds second largest alpine lake after Lake Titicaca in South America. It is 170 km long and 70 km across. The name means “hot lake” and a combination of extreme depth, thermal activity and slight salinity, ensures the lake never freezes. It’s northern shores have “beach” resorts for Kazaks to enjoy, and the waters are a vivid blue.
The lake was used during soviet times to test high precision torpedoes far from prying eyes. The whole area was off-limits to foreigners.
As we arrived, we drove past a huge WW II Soviet war memorial on the track to the lake. It had the names of locals who lost their lives in the war. Also along the track was a huge herd of sheep and goats heading to graze on the grass on the lake shore.
The water is a phenomenal blue and is cool, but not freezing cold as all the mountain streams have been.
We had lunch at one of the nearby “resort” towns. A huge feed for 4 of us, some had 2 courses, and it totalled US$20. There was no English at the restaurant, but there was a large family group at the next table and we were able to point at dishes and order them. Everyone had a good laugh.
The next step was the drive to the Kyrgyzstan/Kazakstan border. We had to head a long way west as the mountain range near the border does not have many roads across it. The closest was the Bishkek (Capital of Kyrgyzstan) to Almaty (Kazakstan) road. As we arrived it was chaos.
Hundreds of people carrying bags and boxes to the border crossing and a line of cars in front of us. People pushing in everywhere, cars blowing horns, and a hot wind blowing. Car passengers, Mark and Andrew, had to disembark and join the human throng. The drivers, Pete and Jeff, as their names are on the car documents, had to wait for the cars to be let into the processing centre, three or so at a time.
For the passengers, it was not too onerous, about 45 minutes including form filling, and they had their passports stamped out of one country and into the other.
Mark and Andrew sat down outside the border gates to await the cars. After about another 45 minutes, the cars appeared at the gates. Suddenly, they reversed back and could not be seen. After about another hour and a quarter they finally made it through the gates. The look of exasperation and frustration on the faces of Jeff and Mark was obvious. The whole process of getting the cars through was a disorganised farce. Documents to be filled in, all in cyrillic with no-one to help. Any mistake, do it again. Office to office, form after form, go here they point, no go there says another. To top it all off, they X-Rayed both cars looking for contraband. We bet no-one else has had that done in Australia. C-YA looks cute all exposed. Check it out!
They had 2 suspicious areas they wanted explained!
It was now 7.45 pm and we had a 215km drive to Almaty ahead of us. We would be driving the last section in the dark!
Kazak police have a reputation of being “very enthusiastic” in speed and road rule enforcement. Sure enough, 2 minutes into the country, we were pulled over. We were told you needed to have your headlights on at all times when driving in Kazakstan. They took our documents over to the police car on the side of the road. Jeff was very diplomatic thanking the officers for pointing out the requirements and saying he would ensure the lights stay on Then a younger officer said “speeding” and pointed at the radar gun. Jeff advised them he was doing 30kph at the time in a 40kph zone. He also pointed out that their radar gun was pointing in the opposite direction. They shrugged. Then one officer, who spoke good english asked, “do you have souvenirs” for us?”. Jeff said, “Yes! we have children toys and pencils intended for children in Mongolia”.
They waved him off.
Away we went again, slooowly!. The next 20 km had a 40 kph limit, with police cars all along the way waiting for their prey. Then on the open road, it opened up to 70kph, only to slow to either 40 or 50 kph in every village or town. After 70 km we could finally hit our top speed of 90kph, the highest speed allowed on Kazak roads. The last 100 kms was in pitch black dark conditions, heavy traffic, including trucks, on both sides of road, and dazzling headlights all the way. Hard work!
Finally we reached Almaty and our wonderful GPS app guided us to our hotel, arriving at 11pm.
When we walked in and handed over our passports to check-in, the receptionist told us we looked like people out of Discovery Channel. Dusty, sweaty, disheveled, he was probably right about us! We dropped our bags in the rooms and retired to the bar for a celebratory nightcap. We all needed it!
Rest day in Almaty tomorrow. We are having the Hilux C-YA serviced by the Toyota dealer here. Diesels demand regular oil changes, and we had already driven over 13,000 kms.
Then we head north to Russia, cross the Altai mountains and enter our final country, Mongolia!
Mongolia Charity Rally 2015