The Boy With A Hawk

Kyrgyzstan Part 3 | Baetov to Kochkor | Day 355

A hawk half the boys size casually rested on his leather gloved arm. The boys father watched his son closely, making sure he handled it correctly as the boy placed a leather helmet over the birds head, covering its’ piercing eyes. The hawk itself was a dark mocha color, little spots of white showed through as it twisted its’ head from side to side, trying to understand what was happening around it. We gazed at it for a few minutes before it began to rain harder and the boys father signaled us into the yurt for tea and shelter.


The family lived in one of the most beautiful valleys we passed through, just on the north side of Song-Kul lake. It was isolated, visited by the few people who settle here for the summer and us crazy cyclist who chose the least efficient route down the mountain. We were plummeting down the rough mountain road from green to desert when the boy with his hawk caught our eye. 

"Every night they pull their bedding out from behind a curtain, and the family sleeps together in the center of the room."

Inside the family’s yurt was a myriad of colorful patterns and textures. Planks of wood woven together structured the yurt while huge pieces of felt blankets are tied around the wooden frame to secure and insulate the home. A boy around the age of three with a mohawk was fast asleep on a mound of blankets in the corner. Once he sensed there were strangers in the house he immediately awoke and shook my hand still half-asleep and said, “Salam.” We sat with the family of five around a low lying table on blankets and pillows in the middle of the room. Every night, they pull their bedding out from behind a curtain, and the family sleeps together in the center of the room. The same room they cook in, the same room they play in, and the same room they share life in. Things are pretty simple here. 



Without hesitation the mother immediately started chopping up fresh vegetables, brewing tea, and frying up a pan of lamb to feed us while the storm was passing. We all sat around silently, not really sure what to do, but not really worrying about it too much either, it is nice to just accept silence. The yurt felt cozy with it’s wood burning stove, like a big fuzzy womb, especially while it rained. Sonya, their nine year old daughter, timidly smiled and jumped up to show us her sketch book full of drawings of her family, yurts, princesses, and the valley they lived in. We introduced her to a collaborative drawing game where each of us took turns adding to the previous persons sketch. Eventually the entire family had joined in and by the end I had us all sign and date it. The drawing transcended generations, borders, cultures, and … it had style. 



We spent the day before at 10,000ft staring at the sky's reflection in Song-Kul lake. One of the most beautiful places in Kyrgyzstan, and one of the most beautiful places I have been in my life. Song-Kul is set in a high altitude bowl of pasture land spanning 10 miles in every direction. The lake itself is more of a salty marsh and not very deep, but its vast reflection of the sunset was incredible. Again, beautiful horses pranced around making the whole seen way too majestic. 

"Again, beautiful horses pranced around making the whole seen way too majestic."



Sleeping in a yurt in Song-Kul is somewhat of a touristy “gimmick,” but we figured we should do it at least once. A wood burning stove inside turned our yurt into a sauna while it dropped below freezing temperatures outside. We were treated to a delicious meal of fresh vegetable salad, lamb stew, bread and candies with tea. Breakfast would prove to be even better with fresh made jams; we were glad we splurged for the stay. 

We stayed at the yurt camp with some German cyclists, Thomas and Stephan, who had started their journey in Uzbekistan cycling across its’ empty deserts. The previous week they had taken a wrong turn in a Kyrgyz valley and followed a dried up river bed for two days before declaring themselves lost. Out of food and at a dead-end, they had to turn around traveling a whole day and a half backward before they found civilization. Luckily a man on a horse gifted them some of his food. Thomas has toured a lot and prefers only using paper maps, although he admitted the incident wouldn’t have happened with GPS, he’ll still continue to navigate the good ol’ fashion way. Always respect those who challenge their self-reliance and skills. 



The flat emptiness of Song-Kul is felt when the mountains on the horizon didn’t seem to be getting any closer as we were making our way out of the bowl. The jeep track grew more and more faint the further we went around the lake until there wasn’t a track at all. We were cycling on a grassy, vast open space, heading in a general westward direction in hopes that the road would reappear again.

"The flat emptiness of Song-Kul is felt when the mountains on the horizon didn’t seem to be getting any closer."

 

  

Stephan and Thomas with their "dog stick." 

 

  


"The yurt felt cozy with it’s wood burning stove, felt like a big fuzzy womb, especially while it rained."

 


We got a whole new set of bikepacking badges here in Kyrgyzstan: “most rivers forged”, “worst weather on pass”, “chased by biggest herd dog”, “discovered most luxurious wild campsite”, and loved every minute of it. Kyrgyzstan hit my sweet spot of adventure: feeling like you’re in the wild west with real cowboys, drinking from glacier-fed streams, watching wild horses play while snacking on a meat stick, and choosing from a multitude of epic camp spots to call home for the night.  

Kyrgyzstan has a certain kind of balance we have not found too many other places in the world, like a bright green shimmering gem in Central Asia. The people are welcoming and kind, the towns are just modern enough where it counts, home-stays are quaint, cheap, and the food is simple but filling. Villages dot the hillside, just a few days apart, with ranges of mountains and vast green steep running between them. It has just enough rawness to add an element of adventure and solitude, with just enough infrastructure to be able to grab a cozy homestay every few days, if you so chose. Kyrgyzstan is the kind of place I dreamt about before leaving on this trip, a place where clean gorgeous valleys with awesome dirt roads are bordered by epic mountains with snowcapped peaks. 



Maybe it was all the warm feelings I was having about Kyrgyzstan, or maybe it was the lack of oxygen, but somewhere in one of those stunning valleys with no one but giant mountains around for miles I asked Olivia to marry me. After a year of cycling together, laughing in homes stays in Kazakhstan together, trekking to 18,500 ft in Nepal together, meditating under the Bodhi Tree together, dining with monks in South Korea together, numerous accounts of food poisoning in India together, meeting the most incredibly kind people in Myanmar together, crying and climbing the sweaty hills of Laos together, getting fat in Vietnam together, spending a month on the beach in Thailand together, feeling homeless in Japan together, and getting engaged in Kyrgyzstan together...we have decided to... continue doing everything together. Kyrgyzstan was the perfect place to pop the question.  

"Somewhere in one of those stunning valleys with no one but giant mountains around for miles I asked Olivia to marry me."

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