Trip between Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan
After two months in Bishkek, we are back in Chon-Kemin, where the Director is waiting for us to work on a promotional film for the park. There too, a cleaning day is organized, but it is very symbolic in view of the scale of the problem of waste. The Director explains that even metal containers that he have set up, had been stolen.
We take advantage of this cleaning operation for interviewing children who are tired of always being put to work while adults continue to throw in the nature their garbages: vodka and plastic bottles, cigarette packages…
We then spend two days with Jenish, one of the best rangers of the park, which makes us discover the area which he is responsible and with whom we have the chance to observe deers. We then take the trail that leads to the mountain lake in the extreme northeast of the park. The track is long and especially technical. There is no other vehicles and we have to ford many rivers. The last we ford is delicate and Totoy drift with the current, but still we reach the other bank. What follow is much more difficult, because to reach the lake, we must continue off road with significant elevation changes and highly technical passages of small streams that must be obviously easier in the summer. We decide to step back a little and ensure a delicate rise as the ground is still dry, because weather is changing. We finally sleep on the track a few kilometers from the Kazakh border and when we wake up, we do not regret this wise decision, because there are 10 cm of snow and we are obviously better on the track rather than in the valley where we would obviously be stranded waiting for the snow to melt and the soil to dry again.
We are about 3000m above sea level and the lake is located more than 10km from the bivouac. We can not take Totoy to go there. We have only one solution is to go on foot. The kilometers are endless and snow makes our progress difficult. But when we arrived at the lake, we are rewarded by a sunny spell allowing us to admire the mountains that close the eastern end of the reserve. The return to the vehicle is very stressful because fatigue is there and sunburns beginning to be felt on our faces. Indeed, walking in the snow a day with a slightly hazy sky is a trap and the next day we are like crayfish and our lips are covered with cold sores.
After a few days completely isolated from the world, well not quite because we were constantly surrounded by marmots and were able to observe them for a long time, we quietly return to civilization by trying to take the track that joins the Issyk-Kul Lake. This track is very difficult with a pass at almost 4000m, but the snow and ice stop us quickly, which confirms what a friend had said, this track is passable only in August and even, there may still have snow at this time, it is mainly hikers who use it.
Anyway, we must go back to the capital and pass again the border to get our visa for the next two months. We will return to Chon-Kemin in August to continue filming the area that we particularly like.
Back in Bishkek, we spend a great time with Oleg, Anastasia and Cveta but have trouble to recover from our trip. Indeed, we feel a general physical fatigue and lips are completely swollen by cold sores (about a dozen) and we need to regain strength for the two trips that we organize with our French friends. We have a good laugh when our friends saw us in that condition by saying, "olala, nightmare!" Indeed, many words are identical in Russian and French, part nightmare.
The next day we drive to the Kazakh border, but the alternator has a problem and despite the removal and verification, it no longer provides. We cleaned the engine the day before, he maybe took water, or it is maybe more serious, we will see this in Kazakhstan.
After our first night near the border, we drive west to reach a city where surely we will repair the alternator. As we advance, the battery discharges, because on top of that, you have to drive with the headlights and the police is omnipresent.
We call our friend Mendes to get some valuable tips because electricity is not our speciality. Finally, we arrive to Chy and find a small garage as we like, 3 meters by 6, 4 or 5 fellows tinkering on an Audi 100 and a small sign above the door is drawn: it is a little flash indicating that their specialty is electricity. I disconnect the alternator and a very nice guy, Alexander, opens it on a workbench. The finding is quick, wire rotor is cut, and he can’t do anything. But here there is no problem, only solutions, as to our friend Mendes in the “garage des loges”. His colleague started his golf car (which is a little bit destroyed) and we go around the city looking for a second hand alternator because the new part here is the last resort. After 4 hours and 2 round-trips in other garages in the city, we maybe have the solution; an alternator from a toyota who burned. Alexander immediately sets to work and with both alternators, he creates one, and miracle, everything works. These guys make ecology every day, because unlike the wastes imposed by car dealers in France, they repair, they recycle, they transform and it restarts. We often had this conversation with our friend Mendes who was disgusted to see that the car manufacturers are now designing disposable cars and they dare to give us lessons on ecology… Finally, the bill is €70 labor included, instead of €700 for a new alternator, and we spent a great evening night with the mechanics who eat with us behind Totoy. We sleep in front of the garage under an altitude thunderstorm where lightning appear horizontally and never touch the ground, an incredible show.
We continue our journey across the steppes, the scenery is magnificent and we discover with surprise that a very varied fauna occupies these inhospitable areas. We camp at a lake in a mountainous area, before reaching Turkestan where there is a magnificent mausoleum, erected in honor of Khoja Ahmed Yasavi. The city is very pleasant, despite sweltering heat and we share a good time with the residents of a neighborhood where we have a break in the shade of a row of trees. Men who approach us are Uzbeks, Kazakhs and Russians, and they think that we are in the area to sell products and are ultimately very amazed to see us drinking coffee on the back of Totoy. The people we meet are always surprise that we come from France with our vehicle and then they are admiring the preparation of Totoy.
Then we continue our journey to the south to reach the city of Shymkent. This great city is of little interest to us because we are not attracted to the cities, but it is still very pleasant to stroll through the shady streets and buy some local produce to the market. Kazakhs like to eat the horse and it is surprising to see the head of the animal in the middle of all the pieces of meat, set on a sunny board with the seller, who tries to keep flies away with a small branch or a plastic wand.
Kazakhs and Kyrgyz seem very similar at first glance, but in fact, the standard of living is higher in Kazakhstan and Kazakh consider the Kyrgyz people as uneducated. It is true that if we compare on the ecological aspect, the Kazakh protect strictly the reserves and have implemented harsh repression to prevent the waste found in nature (cigarettes, bottles ...) and these measures are beginning to bear fruits. It would be good that the Kyrgyz also decide to act, because at the moment, wastes are everywhere and the only action of Kyrgyzstan at the moment is to put all the kids and students to work (by picking up the garbage in some areas) before the arrival of tourists, which unfortunately are soiled in the following days... Indeed, the Kyrgyz do not care at all about their environment and therefore the future of their children. This is also why we act in schools by providing alternatives to these cleaning days, as we have already mentioned above in another article.
In the evening, we bivouac near a river and drink a cold beer watching a family of sousliks. In Taras, it is time for us to cross the border to return to Kyrgyzstan by the northwest.
We have no particular difficulty to get out of Kazakhstan, customs are very relaxed and they even want us to drink a small glass of vodka with them; incredible situation for Kazakhstan, as in Kyrgyzstan, tolerance 0 is required when driving. Celine toasts before leaving Kazakhstan. On the Kyrgyz side, when the customs officer sees all the different stamps back and forth between these two countries, he is doubtful, and ask many questions flipping through the pages. Finally he dabbed without a word and we learn there is a new law applicable since May 12, 2015, the environmental tax for an amount of € 15 for a light vehicle. We discuss, negotiate, attempting to empathize to avoid the tax that we find suspicious, but they put us the legislation under our eyes and then, we must pay. It's still amazing to see that a government that does nothing to protect its environment, can implement such a tax, which in any case, is applied specifically at tourists. But finally, let's be positive, maybe the money raised will be used to implement environmental protection measures ... But we highly doubt of this hypothesis.
That's less than 5 minutes we are in Kyrgyzstan and we cannot escape our first police control. We are both ready to play the game and the show begins. The police man comes, he does blah and then asks our documents. No problem, we present him our paper without a word. And then he asked us to come to his car, that's where the sketch begins in front of his friends and onlookers watching the policeman who swaggers by announcing that we will have to pay a fine because we do not have aid kit in case of problems. Of course, at no time he did look inside the vehicle to check if we had that aid kit. It is normally at this point that the policeman starts to propose an arrangement: “give me the fine in cash directly and I will give you a small discount”. But ultimately, he does not have time to open his mouth, Celine says she'll get the camera to shoot him and she explains that we are in Kyrgyzstan for 7 months and we know perfectly all their shenanigans. The policeman is flabbergasted and immediately gives us the papers, the show is over. In Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, police try to intimidate tourists a little fearful, in order that they give them money to go. Since we left France, we have never given a penny to feed the corruption that poisons many countries, and in all cases, we could always leave without too much difficulty.
The heat is stifling and we cannot resist to go swimming in an artificial lake where Lenin's head appears in relief near the dam. We approach when Céline told me that the ground seems a little soft, but it's too late and we are already in trouble... Actually, it's flat stones laid on clay ground under which, there is water much like the mud of "St Michel Mount" (France). Within a few seconds, the weight of Totoy breaks the earth and we stuck ourselves as beginners. So despite the difficult tracks we drove on, we can still easily be trapped and make mistakes. In this case we need patience and go step by step, knowing that we do not have a differential lock. We began by deflating the tires, then we tried to regain grip with sand plates (but these are not very effective, we are thinking to improve them), then, we raised the vehicle with the Hi-Lift jack (thank you Marc for the advice, it is really an indispensable tool) to place rocks under the tires. It is at this moment that we had the chance to see about fifteen young students who wanted to swim in the lake and helped us. At first, we tried to back off, without success and most of the group wanted to pull the vehicle forward, that we did not want to do and what made our exit from the quagmire longer because we fell three times in muddy areas. The elastic cord is also a very effective tool, but young people who helped us did not understand the interest and the tests we have made with their car were not conclusive. Indeed, the driver did not take enough momentum to extend the rope because he was afraid of breaking his car. Finally, we come out of this situation in 3h including the cleaning of the rear wheel and rear drum brake. Mud, sand and other small stones are real traps because if they manage to infiltrate the drums, they wear out the linings prematurely. This cleaning also applies to any crash in saline areas. The hours spent in Mendes garage allowed me to see the damage caused by the salt in winter on the chassis of the vehicles that the owners do not clean.
We cannot thank enough the very friendly young people who have spent part of the afternoon in the mud. Without them, we would have had great difficulty we get out as quickly.
Plantage 4x4 - Car stuck in the mud
Après dix jours de pistes très techniques dans le nord-est du Kirghizistan et une semaine à travers les steppes kazahkes sous un soleil de plomb, nous finissons notre périple dans la région de...
Here is the movie of the car stuck in the mud
When we arrive in Talas, we discover that the city has small beautiful undergrowth where we can spend a quiet night. But before finding the ideal bivouac, we are honored to be re-arrested by the police. The officer walks towards Totoy then stops immediately when he sees Celine driving. We retain not to laugh because obviously he is totally destabilized and does not know how to do. After much thought, he approaches me (passenger side) and without looking Céline ask our documents. Celine gives them to me and I hold to him when we see him staring wide-eyed – like a child in front a new toy. In fact, he has just noticed an Uno card game on our dashboard which he captured immediately. I'm handing him the papers, he does not take them and tell me he wants to get the cards as a gift. We explain that this is a gift for our friends rangers. He insists and wants to take half of the cards, the situation is grotesque and we finally take the cards from his hands. He looks at us with the eyes of a child we just punish. We almost feel sorry for him, I tell him curtly, "ok, everything is normal, we can leave now?". We finally go without he checks our papers. We need each time to stand firm and take over quickly because if the officer feels any weakness, it is he who takes over and terrorizes tourists. Their technique is often the same, especially in Bishkek: they explain that they will take the passport, all the vehicle documents to go to the police station, register our passports numbers and then that we need to go to a bank to withdraw the amount to pay the fine, what worries the tourists. And then the policeman offers a friendly arrangement avoiding this procedure by directly giving cash money so he lets you go. Therefore, we do not hesitate to show our little camera to scare this kind of corrupt police man.
A few kilometers south, we discover the magnificent national park Bech Tach, where despite some yurts of shepherds, we can easily isolate ourselves in the nature. Unfortunately animals are scarce, hunters did a lot of damage and of course there are many cartridges and other wastes everywhere. We decide to clean the area where we are and we fill a big net of bottles and cans. On our return to the park entrance, we are pleasantly surprised by the reaction of the guard who thanks us to have picked up the wasted and explains he is tired by the Kyrgyz stupidity, these are his words. We discuss at length and says he regrets the Soviet period where the rules were respected and he thinks that the current government lacks of authority and corruption regresses the country.
We leave to the highlands Cyycamyr we had already visited in winter (see story "a winter in Kyrgyzstan"). But this time, we are not alone, as dozens of yurts, tents and metal containers are located everywhere on the highlands and herds of horses and sheep invade greenish pasture. Everything is ready to welcome tourists and Kyrgyz people who wish to drink the fermented mare's milk (Кымыз) and various more or less salty cheese. Some travelers think that the Kyrgyz have kept their nomadic traditions. But in fact they are sedentary and live in yurts during the summer. This summer show does not really attracts us, and we take the road to Bishkek to prepare the Eco volunteer expeditions who start in a few days.
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