Mar 18

Hot & Cold (Destination: Karakol & Altyn Arashan)

Wed, Oct 16, 2013

We drove to the city of Karakol, arriving before lunchtime. We were staying in a really lovely B&B and somehow I lucked out and got my own room decked out in princess pink! The B&B had a huge flower garden and we seemed to be the only ones staying there since the high tourist season has ended.

I did an afternoon walking tour of the town. I first stopped at the local zoo. Although there were ugly cages between me and the animals, the animals seemed to be taken care of very well. The animals were those that are frequently seen in the area, including the Asian brown bear, wolves, lynx, golden eagles, camels, wild boars, and owls. Interestingly, the only non-native animals in the zoo were a couple monkeys and a few alpacas – not sure why they made the cut.

I then walked thru the big city park towards the town. There was a small amusement park there and like the one in Kashgar, it seemed quite run down and not used much, except the pool and ping-pong tables. While in the park, I saw the weirdest squirrel ever with big ears like a rabbit and one blind eye. It was storing large acorns for the winter – it seems that everyone in Kyrgyzstan is doing the same – preparing for winter.

Next, I continued to the cathedral – a beautiful wooden Russian orthodox church that reminded me of some I saw in Siberia last year.

I stopped in the local tourist information office and looked at the maps and the souvenirs, followed by a trip to the Chinese mosque – a mosque that looked much like the typical architecture of China.

I returned to the B&B by late afternoon and unfortunately, the internet wasn’t working on my computer even though it seemed to work for everyone else so I took a really hot shower – this may be the last shower for the next 5 days as we will be staying in a mountain hut and camping the next 4 nights.

Most of the group hung out in the B&B’s breakfast food and snacked on sweet corn nuts, peanuts, and raisins. Then eight of us walked to town had dinner at the Lonely Planet recommendation of Fakir Cafe. I had Roasted fish with vegetables and buckwheat – they like their oil, salt, and dill here.

Steps: 31,074

 

Thurs, Oct 17

Breakfast was at 9:00 but I was up a little early and wanted to check out the animal market. However, the gate to the B&B was locked so I went back to bed. We had a huge, strange breakfast of spaghetti with veggie sauce and an apple sponge cake.

Then the Russian monster trucks picked us up at the B&B – we loaded all our gear except for the tents and headed for the mountains southeast of Karakol. These monster trucks each have room for 14 passengers and lots of gear. They are military style trucks with 4 huge tires. On the way out of town, we stopped at the Russian Orthodox cathedral since most of the group hadn’t visited there the day before.
There were a couple of times we were scared for our lives driving up the hill – these monster trucks drove over some huge rocks.

We arrived in the small settlement of Altyn Arashan just before lunch. This is an alpine refuge with natural hot springs.

Our rooms were non-heated dormitories with loose spring beds and a thin mattress. I was glad I brought my sleeping bag and mat, as well as the fuzzy baby blanket I bought in China which is now affectionately nicknamed “wolfie”. After lunch, the cook group was about to make pumpkin soup for dinner, but I asked if I could carve a jack-o-lantern first since Halloween is just 2 weeks from today. Lincoln lent me his big knife he bought in Nepal – a “Gerkin” knife. I also scooped out the seeds and made some roasted pumpkin seeds with a little bit of oil and salt on the fire – they were a hit – all of them were eaten before dinner.

I was a bit bored by midafternoon so I headed out for a short walk in the valley. It started to rain shortly thereafter so I headed back to the alpine house and on the way I finally saw my first wildlife in Kyrgyzstan – a rabbit and later a white mink-like animal with a black tip on its tail that was so cute – it almost looked like a miniature polar bear. It had appeared to have caught a mouse and was ducking and hiding it from me.  Note: after further research we discovered this is a stoat, with its white winter coat.

I went to the hot springs after that were I joined with 9 others. I sat in the hot tub for close to 2 hours, having a beer which went straight to my head. After the tub, I dressed and went to the dining room where there was quite a little party going on – dancing by candlelight in the only warm room at the house. They had broken into the Mars Bar vodka – a concoction that was made earlier that day – melted Mars Bars, cream, and vodka. Someone had also made some hot Grulwein – the German drink with heated wine and spices. What a great drink for a cold autumn night. This was followed by good bread and pumpkin/potato soup which really warmed the tummy as it was snowing outside. We danced for a while in the dining room (warm room) and then went to bed, with about 1/2 inch of snow at bedtime.

Steps: 10,638

Fri, Oct 18

There was close to an inch of snow on the ground when we woke but in the morning sun it was melting quickly. It was so cold in the drafty outer room that Barb, Chris, and I shared but at breakfast we found out the other larger dorm rooms that shared a wall with the stove were too hot last night.

After a breakfast of French Toast (the non-Americans all call this “Eggy Bread”), about half of the group set off on a hike to what our Kyrgyz guide called “Three Lakes” that was to be about a 4 hour round trip hike. In the morning, the hike was 100% in the snow, with the snow getting deeper the higher we rose in elevation. After an hour and a half, half of the group dropped out of the hike and decided to make a snowman. The rest of us continued.

Shortly thereafter, we saw a small pond and thought that surely this must not be the lake and we saw one pond and a couple dry ones so we continued further in snow that was now about 6 inches deep. After another hour, we saw something on a ridge that looked like it could be a glacial lake. The closer and closer we got, the steeper and more difficult the hike looked. Added to this, I had just worn a single pair of socks and mesh shoes and my shoes were quite wet and cold hiking in the snow, so I turned around, planning to follow the footprints in the snow back and check out the pond area to determine if this was the 3 lakes.

It was amazing how much snow had melted between the ascent and descent of the mountain. The snow was nearly completely melted leaving a muddy, slippery track. I went to the pond and found that there were in fact 3 ponds with water in them – certainly the 3 lakes the guide had told us about. I got back to the house around 3:00 and had a quick lunch of leftover pumpkin soup from the night before. Then I headed down to the hot spring for a nice, long soak.
Before dinner, we hung out in the warm dining room by candlelight. Today was Phil’s birthday so there was a special dinner – BBQ grilled leg of lamb with gravy, roasted potatoes, buttery carrots, and fried red cabbage. We were so stuffed we saved the surprise birthday cake for the following night.

Steps: 26,153

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