The Southern Shore of Issyk Kul was rather disappointing, so I had hopes in the morning that at least the northern shore would be worth cycling. It did not start well however, because the road out of Karakol was horrible, both from the surface and the traffic. But after around 40 km when I actually reached the northern shore, things started to change. The road became smooth, there was much less traffic, and it was green all around. So for the next 40 km, the ride was really enjoyable. I even went down to one of the beaches and had a swim in the lake.
Traffic around Karakol
Just like yesterday when I drove into Karakol, also today the road surface was really bad in and around Karakol. There were unpaved parts, parts with huge potholes, and in addition to that, all drivers had the need to pass each other even in impossible situations. Sometimes cars passed me with 10 cm distance with high speeds, and other times cars were just honking behind me and going full speed towards me. I don’t know what would have happened if I had not gone off the road in the dirt in these moments. I get the feeling here that it is acceptable for a driver to hit a cyclist, it is much more important to gain a few seconds…
Green northern shore
I was positively surprised after crossing the valley from Karakol and turning west towards the northern shore of Issyk Kul how green everything became. Basically all along the road there were beautiful trees on both sides, and behind there were green fields, the lake to the south, and the mountains to the north. Traffic also got much less and combined with the perfect weather, a light breeze, and comfortable temperatures, the ride along the north shore was really enjoyable.
After around 80 km I spotted a nice beach from the road and decided to cycle down to that beach for a swim. Given that the lake is on 1600 m, the weather was surprisingly warm and the swim was very refreshing after a long ride.
Spending the night on a farm
At the beach there were some locals taking a swim as well. I got to talk to one of them, a 15-year old boy who wanted to practice his English on tourists. And then things took the usual turn. I got invited to tea at their farm and I accepted. What I did not know is that the farm is around 3 km away from the beach and I had to push up my bicycle in the afternoon sun. But once arrived, I enjoyed the tea, which was followed by dinner, and a tour around the farm.
Perspectives of the youth
In the evening I talked a lot with the boy and his brother about life in Kyrgyzstan, and the dream of studying and working abroad. He told me proudly that he wanted to go studying abroad in South Korea. When I asked him, in which field he would like to study, he could not tell me yet. I asked him then indirectly who is going to pay for his studies, because it was obvious that his family could not afford sending him abroad. He then told me that he participated in some kind of Olympiad where he won 3 gold and 2 silver medals. This Olympiad is sponsored by an American millionaire in Bishkek, and he in the end decides who gets the scholarship. But the way it sounded to me, it is highly uncertain if he will in the end receive the scholarship, as it is a national competition and it was not the last round. Nevertheless, he put all his hopes into that one competition and I hope for him that it will work out. The alternative is living the Kyrgyz life.
Life on Kyrgyzstan’s countryside
So those who cannot afford studying abroad will stay in Kyrgyzstan or take some low-paid job in Russia in order to finance their families back in Kyrgyzstan. And the perspectives in Kyrgyzstan are bad, the boy’s elder brother told me. The unemployment rate in Kyrgyzstan is 70%, and there are no unemployment benefits, so they have to arrange themselves on how to survive. This means that since they cannot afford to buy food, they produce everything themselves to be self-sustaining. The boy’s mother told me proudly during dinner that everything we eat they produced themselves.
But I also saw on that farm what it means to be self-sustaining. You have to take care of sheep, cows, horses, turkeys, vegetables, and so on. You have to let the animals out in the morning and take them to the hills, you need to supervise them, you need to deal with sick animals, you have to look for missing sheep in the evening, the cows need to be milked, and so on. The list of tasks seems almost endless to me.
The farm I was on was one of the bigger and wealthier ones. They owned several hundred sheep where a sheep can have a value up to 100$, and they even could afford to hire someone to look after the sheep during the day (that’s why I was able to meet them at the beach, otherwise they would have been in the hills with the sheep). And by selling sheep, they can buy e.g. a used car for $1500, build or extend their farm house, or in the case of that farm, drill a hole into the ground so they can get access to fresh water at the farm instead of getting it from far away.
Basically if you stay in Kyrgyzstan on the countryside, you are forced to become an entrepreneur, because that’s what those farmers are. Some of them do a better job like the farm I stayed at, and some of them don’t. The ones who fail to run their own farm or cannot provide the initial investment are those people who get hired to look after sheep for less than 200$ per month. It is a life without perspectives.
Max elevation: 1891 m
Min elevation: 1692 m
Total climbing: 2050 m
Total descent: -2204 m
Total time: 07:02:25