Kinga from On her Bike accompanied us back to Kyrgyzstan. For a short time here travel route was the same as ours. Waking up in the morning at Kaindy Lake in Kazakhstan, we pitched our tents back in the garden under the trees of the already fully booked Riverside Guest House in Karakol, Kyrgyzstan. We chose the same trouble-free border crossing for the way back as when we left for Kazakhstan. In the Riverside they even served food this evening, so we didn’t have to worry about cooking ourselfs.
Unfortunately Xenia got really sick. So we were glad to be able to move into a room the next day. It seemed to be the same short but severe illness that Martin caught in Almaty but after two days she was back on track and ready for a beer at the little overlander meeting in Karakol.
Martin helped in the guesthouse glazing the doors and windows of the newly built outbuilding. We got to know and like Team Akela: Leander, Maria and their son Lenox, who were traveling with their self-built camper truck.
Fairy tale and eagle hunters
The next morning we rode to the Fairy Tale Canyon. Martin was able to benefit from Leander’s knowledge as a photographer, and they spent hours staring at the stars.
The next morning we were picked up on the main road by the eagle hunter, who led us into the mountains over a slippery slope, which became critical for the 11 ton heavy Akela truck. There his family invited us for dinner. The next day we started early in the morning to catch the sunrise and the best light for the photo shoot. We admired the traditional clothes of the eagle hunter. The mighty leather coat was an heirloom of his father, he was an eagle hunter too. The top was made of wolf – the lower part of sheepskin, both turned inwards to protect against the cold in the winter when the hunting season is. The hunter rode ahead of us on his horse towards the sun, carrying on his fist his 3kg eagle and followed by his shaggy black hunting dog. We filmed the scene which was bathed in golden light by the morning sun: the hunter with his proud eagle against the backdrop of an incredible landscape! Green hills and mountains, which became steeper and stony at the top and on top of which there was still snow. Everything was perfect, we just had to press the trigger.
After breakfast, we packed the tent and drove to the Ethnofestival on lake Issik-Kul. There was so much to see, hear and smell: the national dish Ploff, archery, dances, dresses, costumes, horse riders and even more eagle hunters. With our burnt necks and a cool beer in the motorcycle box, we rode back to the Fairy Tale Canyon to capture the incredible colors of the rock in all their beauty in good weather. With the beer in hand we sat on a rock and waited until the tourists disappeared to take our pictures. Other people have money, we have time and our portable home!
A real challenge
The next morning we just fueled up the minimum to get over the Tosor Pass to Narin. We knew the track would be a real challenge with the packed bikes. Fords, steep climbs and washed-out paths were on the way to the pass which sits at 3900masl where it snowed slightly. During the descent we had to avoid broken bridges and were forced to ride over and over through wide streams. Further down we found a beautiful meadow by a river and set up our tent there. In the evening it started to rain and snow, we were right on the snow line and the temperature was 0 ° Celsius. It was a very exhausting 100km ride and so we sank exhausted in our sleeping bags.
Even the next day it was snowing and raining at the same time. We tried to keep everything dry so we wouldn’t freeze too much and cooked our breakfast in the tent. On the further descent, the track was slippery and sometimes muddy, it was a major challenge with our worn out tires. Xenia laid down her bike once and got some bruises. Luckily she was just complaining about her suit being all muddy and nothing bad happened. Later we arrived in Narin and meet Cristiano and Roberto our Italian friends. We organized the permit for the next tour up to Kel Soo, which is in the border region to China and therefore restricted.
Kel Soo yurt camp
The road to Kel Soo was anything but well developed, but after 5 months of training with fully loaded motorcycles, we kept pace with the Italians on their lighter motorcycles. The landscape was beautiful. Grazing animals and white yurts stood out from the lush green of the meadows. After a good 150 km and fixing a flat at Martin’s rear wheel, we reached the Kel Soo yurt camp. A dream for off-road friends and those who enjoy being in nature. Martin tried unsuccessfully to photograph stars with Cristiano during the night. They stood in the cold night wind, struggling with a defective lens and even the vodka did not help to get the stars in focus.
Headache and a horse ride
The next morning, Martin had a throbbing headache. The height, too little liquid in the form of water and too much in the form of vodka took it’s toll. After breakfast everyone got a horse at the camp and we rode up to Kel Soo lake – milky-green-blue water in a pool of bare, gray rocks. We explored the cave that was up there, before the onset of rain and snow drove us back to the camp.
The dinner, which was served by our friendly hosts, consisted of smelling sheep meat and potatoes. Xenia couldn’t eat the fat fried sheep meat and concentrated on the potatoes. She passed the meat on to the men who ate their portions. The second course consisted of a traditional Kyrgyz food: noodles fried in sheep’s fat. Only with great difficulty did Martin bring down half of the noodles with the penetrating smell of sheep fat. The hunger was too small. Only Roberto seemed to like Kyrgyz sheep fat. Ashamed we left the almost full plates and wondered, what an impression we would leave with the hospitable Kyrgyz locals, who live here even in the winter on 3400masl at -25 ° Celsius.
Cow dung and diesel
The oven in our yurt was also refilled for this night with a mixture of yak, sheep and cow shit. They were pressed into blocks to dry behind the simple house in which our host family lives all year round. To ignite the fire, a bit of diesel was poured over the dung blocks. This brought the dung quickly to burn. The ashes fell through the holes in floor, where it later gets scooped out through the lower hatch and used to cover the fecal matter in the outhouse. Quickly the stove got warm, but it left a lot of smoke in the room. So we fell asleep in a smoky, stuffy but very warm yurt.
Icy night and “road, no problem”
During the night, the temperature fell below zero, our water bag formed an ice plug and we had to deice the valve to wash our faces. Even in the yurt, we could feel the cold weather despite sleeping bags and thick blankets. After a generous breakfast, where everyone was happily eating, we left and rode the first leg back the same way as we had arrived, but later turned west. We had previously inquired: the road was not a problem and we should also find fuel after 70km. So we were relaxed on the way to soon find out that Kyrgyz understood with “road no problem” something different than we Europeans. The road was very small and deserved now and then only the name track or path. Martin caught his 2nd flat. While patching the tube we got interrupted by a vehicle with very drunk passengers and driver. However they only tried to help. Lots of times the path was no longer existing because the river washed it away. These big gaps we had to be circumvented in large-scale.
Also a few small “river crossings” were to be done, however that was not yet a real problem. The path became narrower and more eroded and the ground increasingly soft and bottomless, so that the progress was really exhausting. At one point more than the path was missing. A whole piece of the hill colapsed into the river. We were only able to get further by going up the steep hill on our left side to get to the other side. But now the path was missing again and it became clear that we could not get any further along this path. So we had to ride back two laborious kilometers to cross the approximately 200m wide stream bed there. The ground consisted of small, fine gravel, which let the motorbike sink in quickly and could only be overcome by accelerating and paddling or walking over the motorcycle. Luckily for us, the water level had dropped noticeably since the spring, yet it was sometimes about 60cm. Cristiano refused to ride through the water at this point and wanted to try his luck with Roberto further up the river.
We did not think the idea of following a GPS track was bad, only the river got more narrower upwards and therefore deeper and faster, which we already knew from Iceland. The two Italians found with the help of shepperds a relatively flat place through the river. But it was still much wider and deeper than our several crossings. So both of them arrived with water filled shoes and wet pants on the other side. On the other side we found each other again despite the fact that we have been out of sight from each other for a while. Together we rode along the Kyrgyz-Chinese border fence about 50km on a bad track, which had more holes than a Swiss Emmentaler cheese.
From Tash Rabat back to Narin
Finally we arrived on the tar road, gasoline was scarce and now Xenia had a flat. We fixed it as quickly as possible, as dark clouds where arriving and the wind got really cold. At the checkpoint back to the “normal” Kyrgyzstan we were already very hungry, but we had another hour ride ahead of us. Arriving at the Jurtcamp, the Italians retaliated with a dinner after Xenia had cooked them the night before. We liked that after a day of arduous slopes, flat tiers and river crossings.
The next day we visited the old caravansary “Tash Rabat” from the 15th century, made of gray granite it stood out proud and rugged between the soft, green hills and mountains. Soon after, Martin caught his 3rd flat and Cristiano’s tank was dry. After we solved this general breakdown we said goodbye to each other. The Italians had to fly back home soon. After 4 days, we arrived in the same guesthouse in Narin where we started, filled our tanks, went shopping and had our tubes repaired by the vulcanizer.
Camping in Paradise
We were both still tired the next morning, but Xenia wanted to go on. So we headed north on a tarred road out of Narin. The road soon turned into a small piste which leads up to Song Kul lake in extremely steep hairpin bends. From then on the landscape was very desolate, the grass was green, but the mountains were far away on the horizon and very flat, almost as flat as the blue lake. The track was getting narrower and worse and we made slow progress. After some tricky passages we reached the location where Heid and Norbert (Stahlrot) had logged in via iOverlander App only a few weeks before.
A really great little spot, about 70m steep from the track down direct on the shore of the lake with the beautiful clear, fresh water. We immediately set up the tent and also the tarp to protect us from the sun. Here we both could relax and regain our strength. We were still, actually again on 3100masl. But it was a quiet and beautiful place, where it was easy to stay two days. We were able to filter water and we had enough supplies. We took a swim in the cold lake, then let ourselves be warmed up by the sun and enjoyed the loneliness.
From Song Kul to Kochkor
In the night a strong wind blew and it rained, luckily by the morning the sun showed up again and warmed up everything with its rays. That way we could pack our things relatively dry and clean. A mouse had marked its displeasure during the night and decorated our awning with its brown balls. We drove around the other half of Song Kul. The track was very narrow and sometimes difficult to recognize, slow and focused riding was required, to not slide sideways with our rundown tires. From the lake on a huge green field of wild speckled grass stretched till the mountains in the background. After 2 or 3 small fords we came back to a larger slope that took us to the paved road. We still felt the efforts of the last week and needed a break, to regain our strength. On the main road progress was much easier and quiker and we found a guesthouse at the first attempt. There we could wash our laundry in a machine (what a luxury) and looked forward to fresh clothes. Glad to not have to cook ourselves we could relax and enjoy.
The long and hard way to Bishkek
The next day should actually be totally relaxed. 196 km tarred road to Bishkek. Although we expected more police checks, but that couldn’t take too much time. After 50km Martin had his 4th flat! So we got back to work. We replaced the tube with an already patched one, glad that our small air compressor did the job in the already warm temperatures. After just another 20 km Martins motorcycle suddenly lurched in the curve so strong that he almost lost control. We registered the 5th flat and a leaking patch, probably caused by the high temperatures. Now were stranded there without a spare tube and or patches and stewed in 38 ° in our motorcycle clothes. We had heard that in an emergency even a 21 inch front wheel tube can be installed in a 17 rear wheel tire, so we tried it. The chances were good to make it back to Bishkek. After fixing this disaster and a short ride, we found a tire shop, which fixed the two rear tubes for just 300 Soms. After another 20 minutes the journey could continue. 10 kilometers later, Martin slowed down and Xenia protested even before coming to a halt on the roadside.
Not again!! But it was the 6th flat! The front wheel tube was perforated by the tire lever and on the hot road it was now at it’s point to leek. Both of us lost some of our composure and cursed loudly. After all, we now mended the rear tire for the third time in 1.5 hours. This was a new record, definitely a case for the Guinness Book and will go down in history. Unfortunately, nobody was interested in this and no official witness was found to verify the record.
At least we had two patched rear tubes, which were only waiting for their use. It was early afternoon and the sun was burning. We did not have anything since breakfast, as we thought we would be in Bishkek by noon, right? Now we had to settle for the warm water from our hydration packs. With particular care, we installed the tube with a slightly different technique, we assumed we had damaged the tubes during installation with the tire lever. It took patience and time. However, we assumed that we had learned from our mistakes. Later we learned that it was not us but the run down tyre who did the damage to the tubes…
We arrived at 16.00 in Bishkek to find that the previously selected guesthouse had recently closed. The whole running around in the city center did not help either, we had to ride 2.5 km out of town to find accommodation for a reasonable price. Now completely unnerved and exhausted we felt hungry, thirsty and frustrated when we moved into the last two remaining dorm beds at the Sakura Guesthouse.
Paperwork and shopping tour
The next day we were fortunately able to move into a double room. We had slept poorly despite tiredness, as the dorm was full of loud sleepers. Now it was time for a new mission: printing out forms for our India visa. It was an adventure in itself, because there were many variants: printer with ink without paper, printer with paper without ink, paper and ink, but the printer did not work. Finally, we bought paper ourselves and returned to the printer with ink. Lucky us, we were able to send our documents to the computer via e-mail, which of course did not have a working USB port. After an hour we were proud owners of printed visa application forms and celebrated this success with a big beer.
Shopping day in Bishkek: a new lens for Xenia’s Sony camera, mini SD card, mouse for laptop, external 2 terra HD and a protective sticker for Martin’s camera display. In the evening we went with other travelers to an Italian restaurant, but first we had to fight against a corrupt police officer, who wanted to fine us for ignoring a riding ban. We only handed our copies to him and after 45 minutes of discussing, some help of locals and the warning that we call the Swiss embassy, he finally let us go withouth paying.
Our tip: take a taxi in the cities! It is more comfortable and much faster. And if you do not have the courage and patience to defend yourself, certainly cheaper than an unjustified penalty.
In Bishkek we spend several days to update our platforms, work and plan everything further.
On to the Karakol pass
Once again we wanted to get out of the too hot and noisy city, in to the nature of Kyrgyzstan. From about 600masl we drove quickly over paved roads towards the Karakol pass. In the evening we camped on 2880masl. In between, we drove over a rutted, dusty gravel road. The sun warmed our backs from behind and from the front we got fresh, cool mountain air. We followed the piste up the creek, higher and higher in to the mountains. Again and again grazing horses stood in the green landscape. There were almost no trees, but each hill was covered with a thick layer of lush grass. The water was dark blue and looked like fresh glacier water. We then found a nice spot with a small stream next to it. Here we set up the tent, cooked a meal and drank the beer we had brought, which we had briefly put into the stream for cooling, just perfect!
Drone desaster and other problems
The path led us over the pass, at one point it was covered in snow. So we had to traverse on the only snow-free, softened by melt water track directly along the slope along, a delicate task. We leaned the motorbikes uphill, the snow side, so we would not slip or drop into the valley. Relieved, we rode on afterwards and fortunately found no further obstacles like it. On a very nice section, we decided to start the drone and let it follow us. So we drove slowly down the valley. At the beginning everything seemed to work out, but after a slight curve the drone lost the connection to the controls in Martin’s tank bag. He stopped immediately and ran back up the bend to restore the reception. But it was already too late and the helpless drone landed somewhere between grass and stones. We couldn’t tell where exactly. So Martin first had to move clearly in one direction and then switch the display twice, until the map was accurate again. We did not find the drone. Xenia just wanted to start it, but that was a big risk because we did not know how it’s landing place looked like. After two tries it was in the air and we were able to fly it to us. We landed and packed everything.
After another 10 km ride we wanted to try again. We noticed that the gimbal of the drone was damaged. So photos or a video was unthinkable. Unbelievable, this drone had not even accompanied us for a month and it was already gone. Expensive fun. Now our mood was pretty bad. Nobody talked until we were back on the tarmac. From then on it was not far to the next gas station. Refueled, we wanted to continue, as Martin noted another flat tire. We just pumped the tire and rode to Kochkor. There we searched for a Vulcanizer, which we found on the 3 attempt. We got everything repaired. And we found the acctual problem causing the flats. It was the tire itself ! A crack on the inside caused the last 5 flats. The tube was pushed in to it and of course punctured after a while. Of course, this was our mistake, as we just overdone it with the tire. Most tires don’t even get close to 23’000 kilometers there is usually no rubber left.
Tired, we headed for a first campground, but were already eaten by mosquitoes on arrival. 10km further we found a reasonably suitable place and put up the tent. What a day: Drone broke, tires broke and we had both laid down our bikes. At bedtime Martin noticed he lost his headlamp. So he marched in underpants and boots with the iPhone lighting the way to search for it. Luckily nobody saw him but even better he found the lamp in the tall grass at the crash site, not too far from the tent.
Stitching a tyre
We drove to Narin, bought groceries, refueled and refilled oil. Then we continued towards Kazarman over a bridge that was closed to cars. We made it, but had to remove 1 box on our motorcycles, as the barrier consisted of blocks of concrete that left only a narrow passage open. Now Martin’s tyre really worried us. When riding down, it happened. Martin’s tyre had a big diagonal crack all the way through and the tube was damaged again. We tried to move on with 4 layers of patches and a tube wrapped around the outside of the tyre with cable ties. The construction lasted only 22km, then it gave a really loud bang. Now the tyre was totally s… Xenia organized with her phone the transport of the new tyre from Osh, to as close to us as possible and Martin pushed the bike the last 1.5km to the next village Kosh Bulak. There we set camp. Xenia made further phone calls, sent about 16 e-mails and had everything arranged after 2 hours. The new tires and tubes would be delivered to Kazarman. Our Italian friend Cristiano, who was back home, had mobilized friends from nearby in Kyrgyzstan who would take care of the transport. We were happy!
In the morning, we tried to fix the completely destroyed tire as we had some time anyway. With a rusty nail that Martin straightened and slammed through a piece of wood, which worked as a handle. He then heated up the nail over the fuel stove and pierced holes in the tire along the crack, then sewed it together with a thin rope. A unique piece of art, which lasted 30 more kilometers over sharp rocks, until it banged loud and for it’s last time ever. Now we really run out of self supporting options. Xenia rode the last 10km to Kazarman and organized a truck to get the bike. Again some Italians helped us with loading and unloading.
Back in good old Osh
At 9:05 the next morning, the motorcycles were fulled up and we already left Kazarman, continuing towards Osh. The roads where so dry and dusty, we had to stop whenever there was a vehicle coming our way. It would have been too dangerous to try to ride through the thick dust, not seeing anything. Later we arrived on a tar road, which flickered in the sun in 38 ° degrees Celsius. Relief brought our cooling vests, which we could soak with water. On the way we met Josh and Sjnie, with which we later will cross China with. What a coincidence! But this day we were traveling in the opposite direction, we drove on towards Osh and were already looking forward to a shower in the guesthouse. Work on the bikes and restore ourselfs as well a bit.
Service on our bikes
In the workshop at Muztoo, we treated our bikes with a service. First thorough cleaning, then changing the chain kit on the XTR, new Heidenau tyres mounted on the rear wheel, installed the two chain support wheels, which Cristiano had brought from Italy. Xenia removed the foam air filters from the two motorcycles, cleaned them and put them back in. We treated ourselfs for dinner in the restaurant this evening.
Another day at Muztoo with oil changes on both motorcycles, chain kit mounted on the XTZ and also made an oil change on the fork of the XTR. For this we needed the book to guide us and Nicolay (probably the best and fastest motorcycle mechanic in Kyrgyzstan), who helped us.
The oil change on the fork of Martins Tenere was made, as well as the new front tire mounted. For the fork we struggled first. Actually, we were supposed to have an expensive special tool with us , because the round socket on the inside of the fork was spinning with the bolt we tried to loosen. Instead, Martin carved some sort of spear from an old broomstick with our camping ax, which he could then punch into the fork and the socket from above. He was able to hold on and loosen the screw from the outside. We had to open Xenia’s fork again and correct the level of the oil. At Martin’s fork, we found out that the measuring cup we used was under-indexing and the oil level was more than 3cm too high.
We learned a lot in these few days and it will be very helpful to do the service on our bikes in the future again.
Lost smart phone
We spent the day on the computer organizing, sorting photos and footage and doing some other work. In the evening we drove to Tesh Guesthouse to meet Cristiano, Sabrina and Josh. Martin lost his iPhone on the way from the side pocket of his pants, where the zipper was open. Even before we arrived at the Tesh Guetshouse, he noticed the loss. Sadly not even the riding up and down the entire route we came did not help, the Phone was lost. We went back to Josh and Sinje quite frustrated.
Even before the meal we received an e-mail, a girl found Martin’s iPhone and tried to reach us. We immediately contacted the named number and in fact Martin was able to meet her the same evening. He wanted to give her a finder’s fee, but she did not accept it, but told him that her mother’s birthday was the next day and she wanted to buy her a nice cake. It will cost about 300 Soms, she explained. Martin took a 1000 bill from his purse and persuaded her to keep it. She was beaming and Martin was overjoyed. The replacement of the iPhone would have been difficult to organize. Martin came back to the restaurant and was now able to enjoy his meal.
Last day at Muztoo. Martin built in the new turn signals he had been given by Xenia for his birthday for his Tenere. Everything was described in the mechanical guide book with exception of the turn signal relay. Finally, the question got answered by our awesome mechanic, Moto Sieber in Switzerland by email. Martin as well straitened both of Xenias panniers, which good some good hits in the past few months. In the evening, Sjnie, Josh and we went out for dinner to celebrate Martin’s birthday, as there were no significant restaurants in Sara Tash the next day. Shortly after we ordered the food, Martin got sick. While the other enjoyed the good food, the poor birthday boy was sitting on the toilet, vomiting twice and had to go to sleep early.
Martin still looked and felt bad on his birthday. He had vomited again during the night. For breakfast, Xenia had ordered some pancake, but Martin just ate some bread with butter and jam. After that he went to sleep again. It was not until noon that he started to pack. We rode to the Biordo Cafe to meet with the others and all had lunch, with the exception of Martin. Then we left Osh and went into the mountains. With only one break, we made good progress on the smooth road and were just before 18.00 at the Guesthouse in Sary Tash.
Off to China
From Sary Tash we continued towards China over a pass, where it became noticeably coolder. At the first checkpoint, our passports and China visas were inspected, to make sure that we were allowed to enter the border region at all. We rode on and arrived after about 80 km at the Kyrgyz customs. There we were quickly dispatched and allowed to continue. Now we will have to ride in a already set group through China. But with Cristiano’s motorcycle import papers was something wrong. This is a problem but will probably be solved in an hour or so. All of us had to leave since lunch break was getting close and so we rode on without him and Sabrina. At the second Kyrgyz post we were checked again and allowed to pass despite the lunch break. We finally left Kyrgyzstan and were shortly after at the Chinese border. Waiting for our Italian friends…who hopefully would come soon.
Kyrgyzstan – a highlight of the Silk Road!
We spent more then two month in this beautiful country. We had to say goodbye for now, but we will go back! Kyrgyzstan was an absolute highlight for us and the motorcycle paradise par excellence. With the friendly people, the untouched nature, the great roads and for us perfect camping conditions we have become big fans. Even if you only have 2-4 weeks vacation, you can explore Kyrgyzstan on a motorcycle, as you can rent bikes there. So what are you waiting for?