On arriving at Kyzart after walking all day from Lake Song Kul we were desperate for a cold drink, but all we found was a sleepy town with two dirt roads and some donkeys. Someone was washing their car in the middle of one of the roads using water from a puddle, but there were otherwise no cars on the road. On the lookout for a taxi, we were invited into a house by some young men who assured us they would find a taxi. Their mother fed us with chai and shoro, a home made fermented drink made from yeast that was something like beer. Then their friend showed up, had a cup of shoro, and announced that he was the "taxi driver". We negotiated 1000 som (about AUD 23) to Kochkor, a town 50km away that was at the western edge of Lake Issyk-Kul, and we piled into the Audi 100 with his two friends. The lads were taking the opportunity for a night out in the big smoke. We quickly drove around town first looking for Rachael and Tobias who had also walked out from the lake but whom we hadn't seen all day. We found them further along the road - it seems they took a different pass - and we were happy to be able to share the cost of the taxi. So the seven of us squeezed in, but ten minutes on the driver stopped in the middle of nowhere and demanded 4000 som. We refused, outraged at this sudden price hike, and made moves to leave the car. They protested and we eventually agreed that we would pay 2000 som, which was actually the going price for a real taxi, and continued. Instead of awkward silence, they were more than happy to continue a jovial conversation, seeming to forget that they had just tried to rip us off. As a traveller we met later said, "well, would you prefer to be ripped off rudely or with a smile?". As we neared Kochkor we were told to duck at regular intervals to avoid being seen by the militsia, or police.
We found a homestay for the night at Kochkor and honed our Cyrillic menu reading skills that night at what appeared to be the only restaurant in town. The next morning Rachael and Tobias departed for Bishkek, and we headed further around the northern side of lake Issy-Kul via Balakchy to Tamchy. Our first ride was in a black Mercedes owned by a young, well-dressed professional couple who favoured Italian pop. They were initially reluctant to put our backpacks in the boot. We found that this was because there was a live goat inside!
The second part of the journey was in a rowdy marshrutka, or minibus, where we caused quite a commotion just by being foreign: a drunk off duty policeman was competing with a friendly middle aged couple and an elderly gentleman in shouting questions at us in Russian and Kyrgyz and demonstrating their knowledge of Australia. We had a series of photos taken of us on someone's phone. A marshrutka will leave when all seats are full and will then continue to pick up passengers.
Beach essentials: camel and blow up castle
Tamchy has a beach on the shores of Issyk-Kul and is a popular holiday spot. The lake side was crammed with sunburnt Russians and Kyrgyz drinking vodka and eating smoked fish and watermelon, and the atmosphere was one of a family fun fair. It was bizarre to be at a sunny beach when you could see snow covered mountains on the opposite shore. Happily, we found an outdoor cafe serving borsch (Russian beetroot soup) and plov (pilaf) that was also screening obscure 80s glam pop music videos.
Just what every playground needs - a 6m ladder. This Soviet style
playground also had parallel bars, uneven bars and a balance beam
Smoked fish for sale outside a beach yurt
This zebra-donkey was painted
Dusk at Tamchy
The next day we left for Cholpon-Ata, the largest town on the lake, and home to the president's summer house and cultural museum. Cholpon-Ata is popular with Russians and Kazakhs, being close to the border with Kazakhstan. We were disappointed to hear Russian being spoken almost universally rather than Kyrgyz, so we had to do some quick phrasebook revision. The cultural museum is a strange, slightly ostentatious place where overseas dignitaries are hosted. We received a personalised tour in English. Some of the artwork and sculpture was impressive.
Famous Kyrgyz ballet dancer, Bibisara Beishenalieva
This hall and pool can be hired out for parties
Traditional Kyrgyz felt rug