In August of last year, my best friend, Liz, visited me in Kyrgyzstan. We decided to take a road trip to a couple of places that were on my list of places to go and see while living in the Kyrgyz Republic.
Son Kol Lake
First stop, a yurt camp at Lake Son Kol. Liz and I were cold water wimps and didn't swim here. Our companions on the other hand were cold water heroes and splashed around in the lake as though it was a warm, pleasant swimming hole.
At Son Kol, even though I didn't swim, I fulfilled the Life List item that I had set out for, Sleep in a Yurt. I didn't sleep that well, but it was still pretty cool to sleep like nomads for a night. Also, the stars? The Milky Way? Stunning.
Our next stop was Tash Rabat, where we stayed in a Yurt Camp run by a hospitable Russian family for a couple of days. This was where our true adventure began. Poor Liz caught some sort of traveler's stomach bug and became extremely ill, which meant her adventure was using long drop toilets and fighting a fever.
Assured Liz was taken care of, the rest of us ventured out on a horseback riding trip. The last time I had ridden a horse in Kyrgyzstan, I couldn't walk for two weeks. I couldn't believe I had agreed to this 15-mile ride to a peak overlooking the Chinese border.
We followed a stream through the valley leading north to the view of Chatyr Kul, a lake dividing Kyrgyzstan and China. Our highest point was the scenic peak overlooking the lake, which was more than 14,000 feet. The ride up to this peak was admittedly terrifying and anxiety-producing. One false move by the horse, and down we go. Other foreigners were yelling and hollering while trekking up the mountain on their horses. I wanted my horse to feel like he could take his time. No need to rush, dear horse. Keep us safe. We eventually made it up the mountain, and the view and altitude from the peak were breathtaking.
After a short break, it seemed like a major storm was approaching, so we decided to head back toward the horses' camp. Going down was harder than going up. Again, one false move, and down we go! There were a few moments where I felt I could not breathe, and I wasn't sure if it was the altitude or anxiety (probably a little of both).
A couple of hours later, the horses' camp came in to view, which brought a great deal of relief to me and apparently my horse. He was so excited to see home that he and his horse buddies took off running without warning. I tried to slow him down but ended up getting thrown off. For the previous six hours, this was my biggest fear, and that was one of the scariest 10 to 20 seconds of my life. Fortunately, I was thrown off in the one grassy spot of the entire 15-mile, rocky and dusty terrain. The fall took my breath away, and my friend and the guide jumped off their own horses to come back for me. Once it was determined that I was physically okay, the guide suggested I needed a shot of vodka for the shock. We then went back to our yurt camp and shared a bottle of Jameson, which is when the shock finally started wearing off.
It wasn't until we started drinking the whisky that I started thinking about our adventure. What the hell we were thinking? We trusted a drunk guide and horses that were not well-trained to climb 14,000 feet of rocky terrain over the course of six hours. The poor horses didn't have horseshoes, and we weren't wearing helmets.
However, no regrets. Seeing Chatyr Kul was an experience of a lifetime, and in the end, I was able to walk away without a scratch and then drink whisky with a few incredibly kind Russians -- something most people would never experience in their lifetime.