Sunday 28 May
Shonji – Karakol Kyrgyzstan
Well if we thought the roads were bad yesterday we hadn’t seen anything yet! After leaving our little oasis Constantine and Anna took a “shortcut’’ to the Charyn Canyon- a mini Grand Canyon. They were in a 4 wheel drive and we were all in our trusty MGs. Don’t get me wrong – MGs are touring cars and can handle some rough terrain but the kms of corrugations and potholes were bone and teeth shattering, so much so that a radiator fan on one of the cars which had it only fitted in the morning, after being flown out from England by one of the team who arrived in Kazakhstan the day before, fell to pieces because the vibrations were so incessant.
After speedy repairs on the flat desert plains we were on our way to Charyn Canyon before making a border crossing into Kyrgyzstan. The canyon had hikers in it and even mountain bikers who climbed the cliffs before careering down the steep sides of the canyon. The reds, orange and brown hues on the surrounding mountains and cliffs did resemble the Grand Canyon. The colours and atmosphere was accentuated by the rolling band of dark storm clouds and the rumblings of thunder which heralded an approaching storm.
As we drove out the rain hit, apparently a very rare event in these parts. Soon the clouds and rain disappeared and we found ourselves driving through green hills dotted with flocks of sheep and goats. But the potholes and bumps didn’t disappear. In fact as we approached the border crossing the MGs were inching along in first gear because of the depth and frequency of the potholes and ruts. Shamrock did really well but our exhaust started to vibrate against the underside of the car. We had fixed this problem once already but it would require some adjustments once again. The team has been fantastic in its support of each other during the trip. Especially when it comes to mechanical repairs, all the guys are there helping or supporting each other whenever required. Fortunately the car issues have been minor and quickly fixed.
After a very speedy border crossing – I think we provided the only entertainment for the whole day for the guards who wanted to take multiple photos, sit and drive the cars. Of course we weren’t allowed to take any photos we said goodbye to our guides and continued on our bumpy and slow journey to Karakol.
We stayed in a lovely small hotel which was able to secure park our cars, but the town itself still bears the marks of Soviet rule- the buildings are remnants of typical block, cement unimaginative constructions, the roads are shocking with cars driving on every and any side of the road. When walking on the road or non-existent foothpath you need to keep your wits about you or you could disappear into a deep drain which is missing a man hole cover or trip over the pot holes or into the ditches. All in all we did find a very European styled coffee shop which served delicious cake and coffee and a stall which sold BBQ chicken – yummy.
On the plus side, Karakol is the gateway to some of the most spectacular mountain scenery and hiking trails imaginable.