Trekking Kyrgyzstan’s Heights of Alay Loop, Day 4

Today is, by design, a short day of travel as we move up the valley to a yurt camp that will put us closer to Jiptik Pass, our last big challenge, which we will tackle tomorrow. As a result, no one is in any great hurry to wake up and get going. Thankfully, even our host family at this delightful guesthouse beside the raging river does not rise early and enter our sleeping space. We got a full night of sleep last night, wake up naturally and even have some time to read quietly before anyone stirs.

When the door finally opens, however, it becomes clear that our room is about to be converted into the breakfast parlor. Last night we ate out on the covered, open-air platform. I guess it’s a moveable feast.

After breakfast, we pack up and say our usual goodbyes. Before we leave, the husband (who, incidentally, drives a Mercedes Benz) gives both Rob and me a traditional felt hat. We are touched by the gesture and take pictures in our new kalpak with our host, thanking him sincerely. Timu tells us that men who wear the felt hat do so because they are either married or are deserving of respect within the community.

This is the first time we have been offered a felt hat in Kyrgyzstan, so it feels genuine and not a contrived event given to every tourist who passes through. We wear them proudly as we wave goodbye, cross the river and begin strolling up the dirt road.

It’s a gentle uphill walk today. Despite the fact that it is a road, it still feels like we are on a trail. The rushing river is to our right, and the acoustics become the background noise to our entire day. The hills on either side rise steeply up toward blue skies with white clouds. Wildflowers line the road. As we walk along, we chat with a changing cast of characters as we mix and mingle. It’s fun to be hiking and sharing this experience with friends with whom we have some history. It feels like we are simply picking up a conversation that was started six years ago in Africa!

We stop for a couple of short breaks along the way to rest and drink some water. Fortunately it’s cooler today than yesterday. We are certainly grateful for a less taxing day. As we round a bend, we see a few shepherd’s yurts come into view.

There are children playing outside, and we can see Timu and our guides chatting with them. As we walk up to join them, Timu says we have been invited for kymyz. My rule of thumb is to never turn down an offer for a traditional beverage. We drop our packs on the grass outside the yurt and a bucket of kymyz is brought out. We each try a little while the boys easily throw back an entire bowl.

As we are relaxing, two of the children come and sit near me. The girl takes an interest in my trekking poles, while the young boy is fascinated by my binoculars. So I encourage both of them to give the items a test ride. It’s amazing how you can establish a little trust without either of us being able to communicate verbally.

Timu signals that it’s time to go and so off we go with smiles fortified by our fermented mare’s milk. Kymyz makes you strong!

A mere 30 minutes later we round another bend in the road and a large white-capped mountain comes into view. We can see the yurt camp where we will stay tonight. We arrive at 1:00 pm and move into the yurt that the four of us will share tonight. Alison is the first to lay down, then Timu, then the rest of us follow suit. In minutes, we are all taking a power nap. If today is a rest day, then we mean to take full advantage of it!

Timu eventually stirs, and soon after our lunch arrives. The main dish is a kind of pasta in broth with potatoes, onions and carrots. We’ve decided this afternoon is an excellent time to do some laundry, so we procure a wash basin, grab our grungy clothes and walk across the stone river bank to the water’s edge.

Rob brings his neoprene water-proof fleece-lined gloves out, and they prove useful as the water from the river is freezing cold. We are washing clothes the old-fashioned way, and we are grateful for the protection for our hands from the icy temperatures as we wash and wring out the clothes. The water gets dirty quickly and has to be changed frequently. We have collected an impressive amount of dust as we have hiked these trails.

We hang the wet clothes out on the line hoping to catch some direct sunlight and a good breeze. Then it’s time to relax, read, write and work on photos. This camp is quiet! All the boys have drifted away to take naps. Only Michael, an American who lives and teaches in China, is in camp, so we chat over tea with him a bit about travel and education.

He shares his concern for the over-commercialization of the world and how it has affected travel, making it more and more difficult to find places unspoiled by the long arm of capitalism. He talks a mile a minute but has some fascinating insights into how China is modernizing quickly and yet still keeping close tabs on its citizens. He has worked and traveled in many parts of the world, so we enjoy trading stories about some of the crazy experiences we have all had.


Today feels like a well-earned lazy summer afternoon, and we enjoy lounging around in the yurt and chatting. Every once in a while our host stops in and takes away dishes or brings more tea. A little later dinner arrives. It feels like we are getting room service in our yurt!

For dinner we are served something new, sort of a burrito with vegetables inside, and it is a big hit with everyone. Before long, it’s time to turn in for the evening. We decide we know how to make up our own beds and close up the tündük after several nights in a yurt.

The effort seems to be appreciated by our hard-working hosts who thank us and wish us good night. It’s amazing how fast a day can go by, even with a free afternoon to spare.

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