With five new tour members on board we left Bishkek and shuffled through the border into Kazakhstan with minimal fuss, apart from the press of poorly mannered humanity causing tempers to fray. Once through, we drove for hours with the Tian Shan Mountains on our left and the endless golden wheat fields on our right, swaying in the faint breeze.
We camped at the only patch of trees within sight, shielding the truck from prying eyes (no easy task for a 18ton bright yellow behemoth). The spot provided us with wood for a warm fire and a sunset that softened and shaped the ceased and weathered mountain range beautifully.
The following day the world slid past smoothly on a straight and agreeable road. Fields, fields, fields surrounded us, extending out to infinity.
Unsuccessfully we searched for an animal market in Taraz, thus hastening our journey to the Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve. We camped at a fully serviced campsite (kitchen, hot showers), snuggled up against the dominating mountains, an icing of snow surviving summer’s bite across their crests. The sunny afternoon was delightfully soporific, the inspiring views provided fuel for many a daydream.
In the evening it got cold again, so after dinner we retreated to an inside area were we played our favourite truck game: Black stories.
Our guides for hiking arrived unsurprisingly late the next day and we set off with a packed lunch. The guides were not optional, rather disappointingly, as one must hire them to hike. The views were lovely though and we were guided through the forbidding Kazak wilderness, along dirt roads and tracks, through thickets to shouting waterfalls and secluded, whispering pools.
Much sign of bear was present, namely in the form of processed berries and the occasional paw print.
This should have provided sufficient motivation for both the group to hike closely together and the guide to ensure it, but neither happened. Despite attempting to lure boars and bears out of hiding by bravely hanging back about 500m from the group, David was unable to secure a sighting of anything more dangerous than brambles. Although, on the way back a very small snake was spotted (read: nearly stepped on) and promptly shot into oblivion, with cameras.
As the sky darkened, the stars were wheeled out on display, enticing and illuminating the imagination…
After a sleep which took quite some climbing back out of for David (although he had to wake up early to prepare breakfast with his cook group), we trundled and bounced to a bush camp near the Uzbekistan border. Endless fields silently witnessed our passage, as we wound our way through the dry hills.
The bush camp was isolated and therefore, most excellent.
Tamar was head chef in her cook group, and they concocted a superb coconut chicken curry in record time. The fire was prodded, added to and persuaded to burn brightly, the stars watching impressively, their timeless majesty providing the backdrop for tall tales and short stories
Our tent. Nice view to come back to after stories around the campfire
Rising at dawn, cool desert air welcomed us into a new day and shortly afterwards the sun waved us onward, to Uzbekistan…
By David Baird (who was inspired to write with woolly English words after reading the book ‘Heart of Darkness’ and ‘The Book Thief’)
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