Chasing the Little Naryn

Kyrgyzstan Part 2 | Kochkor to Baetov | Day 345

We were loosely following Joe Cruz’s route through the Tian Shan Mountain range when the first big pass had us trudging through more snow than we could handle. Turning back in defeat had us more than discouraged; it seemed we would be missing one of the highlights of the entire route. Trapped in the heat on the edge of Lake Issyk Kul, with a couple hundred unplanned miles of flat boring road between us and the next pass we decided to hitch our way to Kochkor to work on another plan.


It only takes a few minutes to get a ride in a place like Kyrgyzsgstan, everyone hitches and everyone is a taxi for a small price. A Russian family shows us a little kindness, throwing our bikes in the back of their van and even asks us to join in on their sightseeing. We detour to visit a waterfall and play hide-and-seek with their kids behind the car seats. We eventually got to Kochkor, our final destination, and they asked us to continue on the rest of their family vacation into the mountains. As cool as that would be, we politely declined…we had some work to do, and were dangerously hungry. 



"Remnants of the Soviet Union are scattered throughout this small town. There are statues, government buildings, and memorabilia decaying on every corner."



Remnants of the Soviet Union are scattered throughout this small town. There are statues, government buildings, and memorabilia decaying on every corner. Its all over Kyrgyzstan. “Lenin Street” pops up in every town, and Lenin peak is one of the highest in the region. Schools maintain Russian curriculum, and Russian is still widely spoken all over the country. Kyrgyzstan became independent in 1991 but still has close economic ties to Russia. Our guesthouse in Kochkor is in an old government building with a Soviet statue outside. I ask why they keep the statues up and get a confused look, “..we liked being in the Soviet Union.”

Kochkor, had little to offer in terms of entertainment and we spent a couple of days rerouting in our guesthouse. Kay, who was also staying at the guesthouse, is part of the Japanese version of peace core and had spent the last six months in this dusty little town and had a year and half more to go. Kay teaches English and Japanese while learning Kyrgyz and Russian, she is our interpreter for the evening as we learn more about our host family.  



I had heard about the tradition of bride kidnapping, but hadn’t really known what to make of it. Nora, our host mom, was kidnapped and although upset in the beginning, she had grown to love and appreciate her husband. They seemed to have a nice relationship, and their family was fairly well-off. Women’s rights aside, I couldn’t understand how the families would not want a say in their new son-in-law. Traditionally the youngest male takes care of the parents, and gets the family business or house; I guess this may be way the family is not as invested in the marriage of their daughters. 

"I had heard about the tradition of bride kidnapping, but hadn’t really known what to make of it.'

Bride kidnapping was suppressed during the Soviet regime and was made illegal just three years ago, but very little is done locally to prevent non consensual marriages. Most women are bullied or raped and will feel forced into marrying their abductors. Locals seem bashful to talk about it, although half of marriages have occurred this way, and usually say it is because, “Men are no good at talking.”  I later asked another host mom who said it was an out dated practice and did not agree with it, she was in a love marriage and said, “Men and women are now equal.” I brought it up with English speakers in bigger cities, and most of the younger generation does not agree with the practice. 



A sure sign of summer in Kyrgyzstan are the little old ladies on the side of the road selling fresh mare’s milk, kumis, a fermented mare’s milk, and dried cheese balls. Fresh mare’s milk is said to give you good health and many of the locals joke about how it “clears you out,” (like I need help with that). We indulge in a glass, plastering on big fake smiles as we gulped down the oddly tangy thick milk, we never quite acquired the taste. After watching the horses being milked, I don’t think they’re in to it either. But kumis remains a great love of all Kyrgyz people and they sell different carbonated flavors in the larger cities. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before Starbucks catches on and makes it a new healthy latte option. 

"A sure sign of summer in Kyrgyzstan are the little old ladies on the side of the road selling fresh mere’s milk."


One of the perks of traveling by bicycle in Kyrgyzstan is the abundance of meat and cheese in every shop. We are not big on cooking and go to great lengths to avoid it. We even went from making lovely sandwiches to not being bothered to cut the meat and cheese and just biting hunks off like savages. Even in the smallest of towns there’s meat, cheese, sometimes bread, and, most importantly, a variety of homemade cookies. This pretty much sums up all my important food groups. Most traditional dishes are comfort food, stews with handmade noodles, that come in healthy portions served with a fresh salad of cucumber and tomato, tea, and bread. But my favorite aspect of Kyrgyz food is the tiered cookie and candy platter found on every table. I try to use self-restraint, but rarely succeed, I’m afraid I’m “that guest…”  


 

We rerouted and managed to capture the remaining bit of the Naryn Valley just on the other side of the pass we missed. Following the Little Naryn River did not disappoint, and we were treated to insanely beautiful, green steep gorges around every turn. I’m so glad we made the extra effort to ride it. Campsites in vast green meadows made me feel like the entire valley was our home. We had survived a couple more storms since leaving Barskoon pass. In such wide open spaces you can see storms brewing hours before they hit. Every day by late afternoon we would run from storms, getting as far as we could before dark clouds swallowed up the closest of mountains, the signal to stop, set up camp, take a nap for a few hours while it rained, sleeted, or hailed, then pack up and continue on.

"Following the Little Naryn River did not disappoint, and we were treated to insanely beautiful, green steep gorges around every turn."


We were close to the top of the pass when one of these sleet storms had detained us. It had us racing to get over the top before dark. In a whole mess of mud slipping and sliding down the mountain we almost crashed into a herd of yak and a group of some rough looking dudes. They immediately motioned for a cigarette and sneered when we didn’t have any. After telling them we were American they start asking for “dollars” and laughing eyeing us and our gear. After one of the drunk guys tried to kiss me, we quickly got a move on. Both left feeling uneasy about the group, we decide to find a more hidden campsite; a difficult task when there are no trees and you can see for miles in all directions. We push up a small road and over a small hill mostly hidden from the main road. Many times I have cursed our stupidly obvious bright orange tent, but this time was the most profane. The dudes old truck passed by a couple of times, making us increasingly more nervous…”They’re probably just getting cigarettes,” we told ourselves. 

"After one of the drunk guys tried to kiss me, we quickly got a move on."

The rickety truck rattled back down the road again 10 minutes later, but stopped, we sat up looking around. Everything could be heard in the dead silence of the valley. It was almost dark, we shot out from our tent, crawled up the hill on our bellies to see where the truck had stopped. We had already redistributed our money, passports, etc just in case, but no ones ever really ready to get robbed…or worse. I held my breath as we listened to them talking and walking around directly below us, then a car door slams and they’re driving back down our small road to the main road. We don’t move until they are far away and out of sight. What the hell were they doing? There was literally nothing up this small road but us. Did they know we were here? We tuck ourselves back in our sleeping bags and settle in for a sleepless night. Luckily, it starts storming again and I smile “No one would rob us in this weather!” 



Traveling by bicycle has its vulnerabilities, and that is part of the adventure. It has been a rare occasion that we have felt unsafe on this trip, especially by a person-to-person interaction. Mostly fearing for our lives has stemmed from crazy drivers, steep cliff drops, or aggressive dogs. We were so grateful that nothing happened, and maybe it was all in our heads, but this was the first time our gut had us on high alert. Even though there’s usually a language barrier, it has become easy to read people and their intentions. Given we’ve been on the road for almost a year, through 11 countries with countless interactions, the world has proven itself to be good, kind, and safe. But always trust your gut. 

"Traveling by bicycle has it’s vulnerabilities, and that is part of the adventure."


  

Follow us on instagram @ridingwild for more photos!

 

Riding Wild Mailing List

Get them updates delivered to your email