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True to the apparently random nature of the weather on this trip, by morning it was sunny, warm and clear. I was again up a bit earlier than the rest of the crew and decided to go on a short hike on my own. I wandered down the road to the next camp of yurts and watched the families who lived there tend to their herds and admiring a handsome pair of older gentlemen in suits and traditional hats on horseback. I kicked myself for not asking for their photo, but they seemed so at peace I felt guilty disturbing them.

































Back at camp I had to stop and admire the handiwork of our group from the night before, a tower of beer bottles. If there’s one thing overlanders can do it’s put away cheap beers.







We packed up camp and headed back towards karakul to have lunch and shop for the next day’s cooking. I think my lack of sleep finally caught up to me as I found myself impatient at both the tedious task of dividing up the lunch bill and waiting for the cook group to complete their shopping. I took another walk through the market and returned to the vans at the appointed meeting time. There I waited for an hour for everyone else to return, many dragging from hangovers. I was frustrated as I would have loved to have used that extra hour to have seen some sights or catch up on my email. Our lovely driver Zoe understood my frustration and offered to have the vehicles swing by a Russian Orthodox church I was keen on visiting on our way to our hotel for the night. We arrived at the church after the gates were closed, but it was magnificent, enough so that we were promised we’d return in the morning for a closer look.

We spent that evening at the very nice and modern Swiss hotel, Hotel Amir. Excellent food and the most comfortable beds one could wish for after several nights in a tent on soggy ground. After a huge meal and several glasses of wine a few of us booked an hour at the hotel’s traditional Russian sauna. Luckily it came with detailed instructions. We began by acclimating ourselves to the temperatures by pouring progressively warmer water over ourselves. During this time we took a swatch of birch branches and places them in near boiling water with a lid cover to let them steam. Next we toweled off and went in to the hot sauna for about 10 minutes. It was like a furnace in there. After several years of cutting weight for martial arts I have a hard time enjoying saunas, but I figured this was a cultural experience I wouldn’t get again, so I suffered through. Next we took turns going in to the sauna in small groups and beating the hell out of each other with the birch branches. Honestly, it wasn’t as painful as I thought and the smell was incredible. After a few rotations we cooled ourselves down with progressively colder water and rehydrated. I feel into the hotel’s soft bed and thought I’d never want to leave.
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