[‘Friends of the road (Vrienden van de weg)’ bestaat enkel in het Engels, excuses hiervoor]
Nobody told me before about the extreme generosity and hospitality of the Kyrgyz people. Nobody told me before that cycling through Kyrgyzstan would be such an overwhelming experience.
It’s wonderful to see that in a country of extremely cold winter temperatures people can be so warm and caring.
That’s why again, I want to dedicate a page to these wonderful folk who made my journey through Kyrgyzstan unforgettable.
Thank you so so much for all these memorable moments… ‘Rahmat!’.
Also a big ‘thank you’ to my fellow touring friends Wim and Tine (movingaround.be) who were flying to Osh and cycle the Pamir Highway. They didn’t only fill their bags with clothes and gear they needed for themselves but also with gear and some clothes for me. It was great to see them again and nice to feel that time and distance don’t change a thing. Sharing some drinks, food and stories was like it was yesterday. Thanks, guys. See you around!
I had to stay in Osh for two weeks. Friends were coming over to cycle the Pamir Highway. They brought me some spare parts. I stayed on the campsite of TES guesthouse. A nice place and meeting point for cyclists – I saw many come and go. There I met Marion and Xavier, two lovely cyclists from France. I hope one day we’ll meet again. Safe travels and a good trip home! #kyrgyzstan
The first night of wild camping after my long stay in Osh… Many fences and more villages. Where can I camp? A safe place was in Uran’s garden. A young Kyrgyz guy who was glad to have a stranger in his garden. The following morning I met his father. He brought me fresh watermelon, bread and apples from their orchard. Energy for the road. Thanks a lot, Uran. See you on Instagram #kyrgyzstan
I decided to look for shelter when I saw a sky covered in extremely dark clouds and the first big raindrops falling down. I spotted an open garden gate. I entered the garden and saw I could find shelter in a barn. An old, cute lady, with an extremely curved back and walking with a stick, smiled at me while exposing her golden teeth. She came over to chat. When the rain stopped I asked if I could take a picture. She was super proud and arranged her head scarf. The moment I was leaving she stopped me. Although walking with a stick she shuffled very fast to get me a goodbye gift. It was a bag full of Kurut, homemade dried yoghurt balls. I use it as grated ‘parmigiana’ in my pasta. Yummy! Thanks a lot, babushka! #kyrgyzstan
In an area where they’re not used to seeing tourists, the kids were very shy. Not shouting the usual ‘hello, what’s your name?’ But rather running away or hiding. I decided to camp near a village. These two little shepherds left their sheep behind and ran towards me. I was surprised to see this different behaviour. They were very impressed to see my bike with ‘huge’ tires and were curious to see how I pitched my tent. Constantly giggling and being super sweet I gave them a WWF-tattoo and a Unicef-balloon. The balloon didn’t live long. Thorn bushes as their enemy were all around. After half an hour the whole village knew that a tourist who was camping nearby had great tattoos and colourful balloons in her bag. At least fifteen children were sitting around my tent, watching me preparing dinner and hoping they would become the proud owner of a tattoo or balloon #kyrgyzstan
Camping near a big city like Jalal-Abad isn’t ideal. That’s why I asked if I could pitch my tent in this warm family’s garden. They were super enthusiastic to have a tourist camping in their yard. I had to take pictures of the woman milking the cow, of the new born chickens, of their cat and just of us. The family and I, selfie time #kyrgyzstan
This lady was extremely friendly when I stopped to buy some veggies. She was so glad that she offered me extra cucumber and tomatoes. Thanks a lot, dear vendor #kyrgyzstan
The evening set, dark clouds appeared, lightning clenched the sky, time to camp. Not much flat terrain in the mountains. But near yurts, you most probably find some, including a precious river! Because rain was going to fall down, this girl started collecting the kurut (yoghurt balls), that were laid to dry on the rooftop of an old rusty caravan. Very glad I could camp near their house #kyrgyzstan
On my way up to the Kaldamo Pass, these kids came running towards me. Very soon, their mum showed up as well. She’s an English teacher and spoiled me with a bag full of kurut. Later, on that same road, a van stopped next to me, offering me a couple of fresh peaches. That same day another van stopped, a woman came towards me and offered me a couple of apples. No idea what happened, this must have been my lucky day or I looked that miserable that people thought I needed some extra energy #kyrgyzstan
It was late in the evening. In Kosh-Dobo I asked a young boy if I could camp in their ‘courtyard’. He was Nur Sultan, twelve years old, and very enthusiastic to have a ‘tourist’ in their midst. In the evening and in the morning Nur Sultan and his little sister, Roana (4), were constantly hanging around my tent. The boy had a smartphone and asked ‘Trien, you WhatsApp?’ ‘Trien, you Instagram?’ and sent me messages full of emoticons. Roana was constantly walking in and out the tent and admiring her WWF-tattoo and Unicef balloon. When I decided to go to sleep and the kids were in their house, Nur Sultan suddenly showed up with a big mug of kefir, homemade by his mum, extremely yummy and the best in Kyrgyzstan. The next morning Nur Sultan accompanied me on his donkey through his village and waved me goodbye. Warm people and a warm welcome after a hot and beautiful but tiring day. Thanks a lot! #kyrgyzstan
I rang a doorbell next to a metal door. The doorbell looked like an emergency stop button. The metal door was the entrance to a tiny local shop in a small village on my way towards beautiful Son Kul lake. A young girl opened the shop. I could buy my food and charge my devices. Outside the store, 3 young guys started chatting with me and offered me candies and kurut (rolled dried yoghurt balls). A bit later their sister invited me to their house. They wanted to introduce me to their grandmother and drink some tea. I rejected their proposal but they kept on insisting. When I finally said ‘yes, ok, 5 minutes’ they started applauding and jumped in the air. There was not only the grandmother and the ‘chai’ waiting for me. No, there was a table full of food and I had to try the food on every single plate. Later all the kids got a WWF-tattoo which made them extremely happy. For sure a very warm and unforgettable lunch encounter #kyrgyzstan
‘Hey tourist, photo photo’. Ok, if you insist 😉 Not only glad I could take their photo but also for receiving refreshing djarma (a barley-flour based, refreshing drink) #kyrgyzstan
While repairing a flat tire near Song Kul lake, these kids were my personal assistants. It started raining. The father showed up and invited me to his yurt for shelter, bread, and chai #kyrgyzstan
Early morning… I was strolling around the yurt camp near Song Kul lake and was having a good time taking pictures in the warm rising sunlight. Shirley, my roomie (together with two Korean girls), walked without her knowing into my picture. It’s the only picture I have of her. Not her best morning face but hey, she’s luckily not too vain. So I was more than happy I could use the picture. Shirley is a super nice and interesting Irish girl living in London. In the evening, while preparing for the night, we, the four girls, talked a lot. Many topics were discussed. It turned out to be a cozy girls night in a yurt. A wee later I received an email in my inbox. It was Shirley writing the following: ‘Feel inspired to do something useful myself having met you (mind you I won’t be cycling 30,000 miles! – maybe volunteering locally for a start)’. Wow, that felt so good to read. It always makes me happy when I feel/know I have motivated people to do some kind of volunteering too. Wonderful! As if this wasn’t enough good news, she added: ‘if you ever want me to have a quick look at any of your English texts just email them to me and I would be happy to make suggestions’. Back in the yurt, I asked her if she had some time to check some of my friends-of-the-road texts. Although day in, day out, I speak English it isn’t my mother tongue, so yes, I make some mistakes and I don’t like that. So I was super pleased to read her suggestion. And in the meantime, she has already checked some of my texts for which I am very grateful. Thank you so much, Shirley. And remember always welcome in Ghent, especially once I’m around 😉 Looking forward to having a drink together #kyrgyzstan
Running away from many tourists around stunning Song Kul lake I bumped into these friends picnicking. Just saying ‘hello’ and ‘enjoy your meal’ turned into receiving an apple, plums, nectarines, candies and biscuits. Kyrgyz generosity without borders! #kyrgyzstan
It was 30 kilometres away from Song Kul lake that the weather changed. The bright sun was covered in black clouds and instantly followed by big raindrops. I was lucky. There was a yurt nearby. I asked for shelter. A couple of hours later I was still around. Playing with Tansuulu, an adorable five-year-old little girl. While I was preparing my dinner I received four eggs and lots of kurut (yoghurt balls). Wow, that was a nice surprise. Meanwhile, the men of the house were enjoying riding my bike. The following morning there was breakfast: fried small fish caught in the river next to the yurt. The fish came with raw onion, bread and ‘chai’. Oh, and also a mug of homemade kumys (fermented mare’s milk). When I was planning to leave, Julduz (Tansuulu’s mum) gave me a bag full of food for the road. Five eggs, four tomatoes, two onions, one pepper and one cucumber. A ‘no’ wasn’t accepted. Luckily they did accept some of my money. Trop est Trop #kyrgyzstan
On a stunning downhill, I stopped because I saw beekeepers in action. It was the twenty-one-year-old super friendly Kajirgul together with her mum and dad. They gave me the typical bee hat so I could walk around without being stung. Although wearing it, I got stung four times 😉 but I saw how the honey was made. They produce ten tons of honey a year. The ‘honey year’ is only from June to August. Apparently, Kyrgyzstan produces the best honey in the world. I can assure you, it tasted delicious. Kajirgul invited me to eat watermelon and bread with her. As a goodbye gift, her dad filled my nearly empty honey bottle with delicious new one #spoiled #kyrgyzstan
Meet super kind and helpful Nina. I was in a hospital for some blood examination but the only two languages spoken, were Kyrgyz and Russian. That’s a kind of a problem when you don’t speak either of them. I was already searching and asking around for half an hour, before Nina showed up… Problem solved! She went with me to the lab and tried to explain what I wanted to know. I was super grateful she was around, really. One can feel so helpless when you can’t express yourself. Thanks a lot, Nina and all the luck in Korea #kyrgyzstan
This is Tamara. She’s Korean and 64 years old. She’s a tailor. For 40 years she has been making and repairing clothes in a dusty room (no larger than five square meters) on the second floor of the bazaar in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan’s capital. My pants needed some professional help. She was impressed when she heard I was cycling alone from Belgium to Taiwan. She read about my story on a note on my phone. It’s written in Russian and explains why I’m pushing those pedals for 30.000 kilometres. She silently started crying. I was really touched by seeing this and gave her a hug. She was whispering ‘Maladjèt’, over and over again. This means ‘Great! Good job! You’re the best!’. When my pants were repaired I wanted to pay. I couldn’t. She didn’t want me to. After me insisting, I could (me glad). We said goodbye by wishing each other all the best. This followed by -again- a warm hug, cooled down by the spinning fan next to us #kyrgyzstan
In the Riverside hostel in Karakol I met the newly married Irish overlander couple Caroline and Jonathan (right on the picture – #poppy_goes_east). Although it was a very short encounter, it was an unforgettable one. Together with their nice friends, Ben and Naomi, they were ready to leave the hostel but made some time to chat. Caroline and Jonathan are also cyclists and were curious to hear some road stories. They also wanted to know more about my charity project and said they were willing to sponsor -yeah-. Great but short encounter #kyrgyzstan
On my way to Con Asu pass (3,828m), I camped near this super friendly family’s house. Before I pitched my tent the rain started. I was looking for shelter. Lots of trees and a broken bridge near their house were my solutions. I saw a woman, Aïda, baking bread in a pot on a wood fire in the garden. I asked her if it was fine to camp nearby. No problem! The rain continued for a couple of hours. But there was also a small pause. And in that pause, the man of the house, Ernis, came over to ask me if I wanted to sleep in their house. ‘Outside it’s cold and it will rain a lot this night’ he said. Because I was completely installed and ready to sleep I thanked the man and went to bed. The next morning while breaking up my tent, the man was there again. He asked me if I wanted ‘chai’ (tea). Because I thought I would have lots of rain and snow I wanted to move on. So I said ‘no, thank you’. A bit later I met Asri, the son of the house. A three-year-old super cute and vivid kid who I gave a Unicef balloon to. The family again asked me if I wanted chai. I hesitated but finally said yes. Chai came with bread, ‘smetana’ (cream) and a good feeling to start the day with. The moment I left, Aïda asked me to come back to drink tea together. Kyrgyz people are so warm and welcoming. We all should take an example from #kyrgyzstan
I met Loïc and Chloé (two French cyclists) and Barış (a Turkish cyclist) in the Riverside hostel in Karakol. I was planning to do a multiple day hike, they were thinking the same. They invited me to join their walk towards Archa-Tor pass (3,925 m). We hiked for four days. I was more than happy I was surrounded by such nice people. Not only because finding the right track wasn’t easy peasy, but also for sharing lunch, dinner, campfire moments and being not the only one that walked like a granny for a couple of days after a stunning but steep descent. Looking forward to welcoming you to Belgium Loïc, Chloé and Barış. There will be crying peaches and pancakes 😉 Cheers! #kyrgyzstan
I also got to know the Dutch cyclists Anna and Steven (BiGG wheels) in the Riverside Hostel in Karakol. I knew about their existence through a blogpost of fellow touring friends Wim en Tine (movingaround.be) who met them on the Pamir Highway and cycled together for some time. It was a super nice encounter. I was more than happy to drink a beer together and share some road stories. Looking forward to having a little reunion once I’m back in Belgium #kyrgyzstan
On my way to Tosor pass (3,901 m) I was wondering if I should camp early and enjoy the evening in front of my tent or cycle a wee bit further so the next day I would be faster on the pass. Suddenly I met these three men, building a house. We started chatting, they were super kind and also offered me ‘djarma’. Next to their wanna-be-house there was a kind of shelter with one hay bale. The hay bale was inviting me to sit on it. The shelter would offer me a less windy night. When asking the men if I could camp there, they said yes but also invited me to their house to sleep there. Later that evening the oldest man came back and showed a picture of Polish cyclists who once stayed at his house. Again, he asked me if I wanted to stay at his house. He was such a kind and cute man. I stayed in my tent though. The next morning when passing his house I saw him sitting and staring at the river. I felt sorry for him. He looked so lonely. Most probably that was one of the reasons he really wanted me to stay over #kyrgyzstan
After the Tosor pass (3,901 m), I was riding through a most stunning valley. I had to cross several small rivers. One was quite deep. I was checking where was the best place to cross. Azat, a 33 year old ranger (who is chasing wolves to save ibexes and yaks), arrived. He immediately gave me his horse and took my bike. He pointed at his long boots. Wonderful! Not only because I didn’t have to cycle through the river but mainly because I could ride his beautiful horse. He accompanied me to the next tricky road and showed me the detour I had to take. A most friendly man on a most beautiful day! #kyrgyzstan
It was on the first day of my seven-day-loop departing from Naryn that I met Asankador (63), the man in the picture. I was cycling in a very beautiful valley with only a few horses, sheep or shepherds in the surroundings. Asankador was driving his car. When he saw me cycling, he slowed down, opened his window and asked me if I wanted a lift. ‘Oh no, thank you, I like cycling’ I answered. A couple of hours later a white car was passing by at a very slow speed. Again the window was open and the same man wearing the typical Kyrgyz felt hat asked me the same question. Again I shook my head and continued cycling. The evening set, I was looking for a nice camp spot. There was a very strong wind, so shelter from a stable was appreciated. The last house before the real climb to the pass started was my place to be. I knocked at the door. A woman (Kalitcha or Katia (59)) opened and guess who was sitting at the table together with some friends and neighbours drinking vodka… Asankador! What a coincidence. He was very glad to see me. And his wife didn’t let me camp outside. The house was big enough she said, so there’s plenty of space for me to sleep in her room. Their son Bek (24) still lived with them in Beshbel’chir during summertime. In winter (from October to April) they live in At-Bashy. Little Nurbolot (3) is their grandson and is a super sweet and funny boy. He lives with his grandparents till he’s old enough to go to school, at the age of six. That evening and the following morning they spoiled me with typical Kyrgyz food. It was a super cosy evening with lots of laughter. Several times they said I had to stay with them, at least for one year, just to learn the Russian language 🙂 #kyrgyzstan
On my way to a pass, I met a man in his car. He was wearing dark sunglasses, stopped his car and came towards me. He asked where I was heading to. To ‘Kol Suu’ I said. ‘Oh, that’s where I live’ he replied. He instantly invited me, a stranger, to his house to have dinner together. He made gestures as if he was wearing a scarf. He actually just wanted to say that he has a wive at home. I cycled further in a truly beautiful landscape. Dark clouds were chasing me. It started raining. I found shelter in a small tunnel under a bridge. When the rain eased I continued on my way. I thought I had found the junction to ride to Kol Suu lake. It wasn’t a road or track, I had to cycle and push my bike through mud and grass. It became super steep. I knew it would be like this for the next 7 kilometres. The sky became extremely dark. Not finding the right road and knowing I couldn’t camp on such steep slopes I decided to return. It started raining. Rain turned into hail. It was extremely cold. I saw a house with an open stable next to it. I asked the man who was chatting outside with some friends if I could camp in the stable. ‘No not in the stable, you have to sleep inside’. A wood/dung stove defrosted my frozen fingers, my wet clothes and shoes dried. Wow, what a gift… how friendly… how spoiled am I. The woman of the house, Bake (53) entered a bit later, I had to take place at the table. A table covered with food. It was her birthday today so I sang (as I used to do) a birthday song. The man, Kuban (55) entered the house too. Bake started cooking ‘dungdama’ (a stew of potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage, onion, garlic and mutton). I had to eat more because I was their guest. ‘Kushat kushat’ (eat eat) Kuban constantly repeated. Suddenly I understood that Kuban was the man with the dark sunglasses I met earlier that day. What a coincidence… Amazing! What a hospitality… Unforgettable! Thank you so much, Bake and Kuban for this memorable evening #kyrgyzstan
After almost 25 kilometers of pushing my bike through mud towards Kol Suu lake I arrived at the small settlement near the lake. Because I knew I didn’t want to push my bike (and especially loose precious time) the next day on the same muddy stretch (melted snow in combination with clay ground) back to the main road I asked the first people I met who I could see had a van if they were planning to ride to the main road the following day. Jildez (35) asked her husband Rachad. It was fine, I could join the next day at 11 am. Wow, knowing that there are only ten families living there, I was extremely lucky that my first encounter was the good one. Jildez asked me where I was planning to sleep that night. ‘I’ll camp’ I said. She invited me to stay in their house. Not only to sleep but also to have dinner with them. The next day I wanted to go to Kol Suu lake. Alosha, the neighbour told me it was a three-hour walk. At 8 o’clock I set off. I was excited and extremely curious to see Kyrgyzstan’s most beautiful lake. Suddenly I realized I couldn’t make it in time. It wasn’t a three hour but a four-hour walk. Extremely disappointed I went back to the house. Jildez saw I was sad. She arranged that her husband rides with me on a horse to see the lake. Wow, I couldn’t believe it but it was true. She really insisted. The lake was beautiful and so is Jildez. A wonderful woman like so many other amazing Kyrgyz strong ladies. Thanks a million Jildez and Rachad. And also thank you little Ali (3) for being such a sweet boy #kyrgyzstan
I wanted my last night camping in Kyrgyzstan to be memorable. It wasn’t like I planned. It wasn’t in the middle of nowhere in a most idyllic spot. No, it was in the garden of this friendly couple. A raging wind made me look for shelter. No trees in the surroundings, except near villages. So that’s why I ended up in their garden. The woman was keen on offering me food or tea. Because I thanked her for her offer, the next morning when I was planning to leave she was waiting for me in front of her house with a plate full of mutton and bread. The mutton was from their own sheep and the bread was homemade. I couldn’t refuse such a kind offer. So I went off with a full belly and a big smile. The Kyrgyz generosity and hospitality is unforgettable #kyrgyzstan