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I woke up the next morning to a still-soggy tent and the sound of hundreds of sheep and goats being herded just past my head. The herdsman walked behind them, cracking a long bullwhip to move them along. It was still cloudy, but the rain had stopped and I was eager to explore. The kettle was soon ready and the rest of the group started milling about for breakfast. The plan was to leave for a hike in a few hours. I was far too impatient to wait that long, so with a quick beta of the trail from our local guide I set off on my own. Honestly, after being trapped in a van with the rest of the group for two days a little solitude sounded good for the soul. One of the things I appreciate about traveling in the overland style is the flexibility you’re given. One group member left the group for a few days to go fishing. Hikes and tours of scenic sites are merely options, not requirements, but if you want a buddy to go explore with, there’s always someone eager.

I set off down the jeep path from camp, wandering along the raging mountain river and passing a few small yurts with families tending their horses or working on their Ladas. I had to ford tributaries to the river several times, sometimes via hopping from stone to stone, sometimes by taking off my boots and wading through the painfully cold waters. I passed two giant empty trucks that had become stuck trying to ford the main river, part of everyday life for the few people who lived in this area. I saw no other foreigners, but passed a Kyrgyz man on the path. I tried my hand at speaking to him in Russian. The conversation could probably be translated as this “Hello!” “Hello!” “How are you?” “Well! *something unintelligible in Russian*” “Uh, I don’t understand!” “Goodbye!” “Goodbye!” Well, at least I tried.

A mother and two small children waved to me from their yurt and I had to shoo horses, sheep and cows from my path. After a few hours I rounded a bend to a log cabin my guide told me belonged to the man who acted as caretaker of the area. His dogs shot out at me, barking loudly. I’m not one to be fearful of dogs, but in this situation it’s always difficult to know just how far they’ll go to protect their territory. I picked up a stone, just in case, but found when I marched passed them they did little more than make a lot of noise. The jeep trail narrowed again as I passed another yurt with smiling children. It continued beyond as just a muddy trail and began a steep ascent up the pass. The rest of the group was planning on turning around at the cabin below, but I hiked up the trail another hour to take in the views. I decided if I turned around then I should run into the rest of the group near the cabin, and I did. There Farhad told me a few of the group had continued along a different path and I decided to wander after them.

This path led through a very boggy valley and followed the main river. It was gorgeous, but every step meant sinking in to your ankles in muddy peat. After a half hour the trail led directly through the main river, which had spread out considerably, but will still very fast and deep. I scouted my options before finding a series of boulders that would lead me across without having to wade. The other choice would have me up to my knees in water that had been glacial ice just minutes before. I hopped from rock to rock, the last one being a car-sized boulder, flat on the top and submerged about 6 inches below the river’s surface. I made a big leap to its edge and promptly felt my legs swept out from under me. Down I went onto the rock and into the freezing cold water, though I don’t think I could have been in for more than a few seconds due to immediately springing up, screaming and doing some sort of “oh god it’s cold” dance. I was soaked on my left side.

I momentarily debated stripping down to let my clothes dry off, though the air temperature and likelihood of a well-deserved ripping from the other truck passengers nixed that idea. I decided it was probably best to head back, in case I got cold. I met up with Farhad near the turnoff and we hiked back together, the couple hour walk allowing plenty of time for my clothes to dry and sparing me the humiliation of returning to camp looking and smelling like a wet dog. We returned in time for dinner. Another overland truck, run by a competing company, had camped nearby and they had invited our group over for a pub quiz and beers. We couldn’t stand not to make a good showing, so we stayed at their camp until the rain again sent us to our tents for the night.
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May 2017

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