It’s that time of the year!

It’s Christmas time!

Oh well, at least almost. And this means three things. Christmas shoping, Christmas markets and spiced wine. And so I only have one question for you:

What are you doing here at the computer? Shouldn’t you be out there, taking photos, hunt for presents and have that spiced wine giving you a warm fuzzy feeling in your belly?

Traveling Kyrgyzstan with Muztoo

There is more than one way to travel in a country you don’t know, where you don’t speak the language and can’t even read writings on the walls. You can go on your own and read books, surf the net and spend months preparing it. It’s the way of the real adventurer, the way deserts and the highest mountains have been conquered (well, except consulting Google) and it is probably the most satisfying way to travel, specially if you can spend months traveling.

if you don’t have that much time for preparation or if you don’t feel that adventurous, you can use a local company to organize the travel and hire a guide to show you around. Of course you’re taking a bit a gamble here if you don’t know the company. It might be a total let down or worth every penny.

We decided to make use of a guide and I’m happy to tell that by using Muztoo, we had a great journey. Although there were still some risks, one could get seriously ill or fall off the bike and get hurt seriously, we quickly realized we were in good hands. Let’s call it an adventure with safety net. Sounds decadent, I know, but trust me, if it is the first time you do such a thing and you have to be back home in time, it is probably the wise thing to do.

Muztoo is a Swiss company that is in Kyrgyzstan for many years now, organizing trekking, bike and jeep tours. They handled our trip flawlessly and with Peter we had the best guide one can imagine. They know the country like the back of their hand and are known well beyond the borders of Kyrgyzstan for being the go to company in Kyrgyzstan if you have trouble with your bike or just want to service it on your trip east. And they are incredibly helpful and skilled. For example, when a biker damaged the cooler on his BMW in Mongolia, he was sent to Osh which is a few hundred miles away and told to hook up with Muztoo. He arrived a day before we left and Muztoo got in touch with us, asking if we could organize the spare part and bring it with us and one day later he was in their shop fixing his bike.

So if you ever consider a trip to Kyrgyzstan, I can really recommend Muztoo

let me illustrate what makes a good tour guide :)

Meet Peter Scheich, the best guide you can imagine
Meet Peter Scheich, the best guide you can imagine
He knows how to fix a flat tire while being on the road. Having a spare wheel on the jeep of course helps big time too :)
He knows how to fix a flat tire while being on the road. Having a spare wheel on the jeep of course helps big time too :)
Dinner
He knows a family that will welcome you with great hospitality, even if you arrive well after night fall.
He knows the one place in the desert where a tree grows that lets you have lunch in the shade
He knows the one place in the desert where a tree grows that lets you have lunch in the shade
He arrives at the right time at a gorgeous spot to make a couple feel like being on their second honeymoon
He arrives at the right time at a gorgeous spot to make a couple feel like being on their second honeymoon
He takes care of little details. Like fresh coffee. Every day. :)
He takes care of little details. Like fresh coffee. Every day. :)
He knows how to treat pain. Although I admit it is spooky to have him press a few points on the arm and have the pain in the shoulder vanish...
He knows how to treat pain. Although I admit it is spooky to have him press a few points on the arm and have the pain in the shoulder vanish…

Landscape of Kyrgyzstan

I won’t write much about it. I’m not a poet and therefore, I decided to let the pictures speak. (as always, click on the picture to get it full screen)

Enjoy :)

Last Pass. It's with a sad heart we look back at the last mountain pass of the tour we just crossed.
Last Pass.
It’s with a sad heart we look back at the last mountain pass of the tour we just crossed.
Oasis
Oasis
Clouds over Son Kul this lake is probably my favorite spot of the tour.  (Sorry but you can't see the lake in this shot :)
Clouds over Son Kul
this lake is probably my favorite spot of the tour. (Sorry but you can’t see the lake in this shot :)
Scars Kyrgyzstan is a place rich of natural resources. And as always, men started to dig up earth and hunt for treasures
Scars
Kyrgyzstan is a place rich of natural resources. And as always, men started to dig up earth and hunt for treasures
Unknown River
Unknown River
Moon over Yssik Kul
Moon over Yssik Kul
Tall mountains We're at 3000m above sea level here on our way to the Tosor Pass.  I don't know how high the mountains are, but definitely higher than 4000m
Tall mountains
We’re at 3000m above sea level here on our way to the Tosor Pass. I don’t know how high the mountains are, but definitely higher than 4000m
Beat me... I again forgot to ask how this place is named...
Beat me… I again forgot to ask how this place is named…

At the bazar

Ah the bazar…

It reminds us of the tales of 1001 nights, a place where you can find wonders like Aladdin’s lamp or a flying carpet, if you only know where to look and are not afraid to barter. People from all over the world, all these colors, the smells – let’s face it, a bazar is simply a wonder of the orient.

Our guide told us that they always take their guest to the bazar twice, once on the first day of the journey and once on the last, as most people are simply overwhelmed with all the impressions. And so we did one visit to have a look, enjoy the sensation and a second one two weeks later for shopping.

Speaking of shopping, the bazar is essentially organized like a mall. You enter at the section with cloths, then comes the shoe section, then everything for the baby, further in the carpenters and then the blacksmith. I guess the biggest difference to a mall is, that there is no air condition :)

The moment when Anita discovered that this woman was selling pigments for making colors. Once they were done doing business, there were two very happy women :)
The moment when Anita discovered that this woman was selling pigments for making colors.
Once they were done doing business, there were two very happy women :)
The bazar, the place where oriental dreams come true.
The clothing department. The place to get your t-shit, skirt, scarfs and things you didn’t know you had been looking for

Kirgistan Philipp-189

He was having a coffee with his friends and kindly ask to take a picture of him.  Who am I to refuse? (Just a shame I can't send him the picture as i have no clue who he is...
He was having a coffee with his friends and kindly ask to take a picture of him.
Who am I to refuse?
(Just a shame I can’t send him the picture as i have no clue who he is…

Delivery Service. Yes your shopping gets home delivery... if you have time :) Photo by Toni Schnydrig

The Blacksmiths - finally a department for us men :)
The Blacksmiths – finally a department for us men :) It was quite amazing to watch them. Just a few strokes with the hammer… it would have taken me ages to do the same work!
Delivery Service. Yes your shopping gets home delivery... if you have time :) Photo by Toni Schnydrig
Delivery Service. Yes your shopping gets home delivery… if you have time :)
Photo by Toni Schnydrig

People of Kyrtyzstan

It’s not only the landscape or food that defines a country. It’s the culture, and for culture you need people. If they are friendly, the country is friendly, if they are busy and cold, you will have a hard time feeling at home.

The people we met in Kyrgyzstan are some of the most friendly, but also proud people I met in a long time. We spent most time on the countryside and it wasn’t uncommon that a farmer, seeing us stop from a distance, got on his horse and came over, just to ask who we are, where we are going, the conversation with our driver and the guide riddled with laughter. It’s not only curiosity that made them come to us, it was also to find out if we need help.

One day we stopped by a little farm only to be welcomed by a bowl with mare milk for each of us and later some fresh cream with bread. But it’s not all nostalgia and horse riding, the farmer showed our guide a video of him self riding a bike and then was given the keys and gave it a spin.

We only wanted to ask for the way... and got treated with mare milk and fresh cream Photo by Toni Schnydrig
We only wanted to ask for the way… and got treated with mare milk and fresh cream
Photo by Toni Schnydrig

There are kids everywhere, and they are, like most kids curious. Unlike children at home, most of them were not shy at all to approach us, specially when they realized our guide was able to chat with them in their language. Although the questions usually were the same, it never got old to watch the scene :)

it isn't easy to do street photography when you stick out like a sore thumb :)
it isn’t easy to do street photography when you stick out like a sore thumb :)
Seen at Son Kul, a small lake in the heart of Kyrgyzstan.
Seen at Son Kul, a small lake in the heart of Kyrgyzstan.

It might not be a rich country and after the fall of the UDSSR, much went downhill. But talking with them, watching them, I never had the impression they felt like being looked down upon. They were proud we visited their country, open and by all means not shy at all.

I guess it takes years of practice to look up from your work while you continue to hammer the metal without hitting your tumb :)
I guess it takes years of practice to look up from your work while you continue to hammer the metal without hitting your tumb :)

Dust of Kyrgyzstan

When we met our guide, he told us on the first day “Kyrgyzstan is quite a dusty place right now. We didn’t have rain for months” We looked around and yes, the cars in the city were a bit dusty but not that much.

The first day we got out of town and on the dirt roads, we understood. Just look at the picture below. It’s not a big truck or the Land Cruiser creating the dust cloud. It’s just a bike.

It's just incredible, how much dust one single motorbike can create!
It’s just incredible, how much dust one single motorbike can create!

Dust was simply everywhere. On the visor of the helmet, camera lenses, cloths, in the mouth, nose, and by the end of the day all over our faces. There simply isn’t a way avoiding it. God was I glad to have decided to take the Olympus EM-5 with a zoom lens with me and not a system where I would have been forced to swap lenses!

But I also discovered that dust is perfect at hiding grey hair. I mean, I haven’t looked this young in years! And aren’t my eyebrows pretty!

Dust, just ideal to cover grey hair
Dust, just ideal to cover grey hair

When covering the road in a 5 cm thick layer, dust however is hell, specially when driving downhill, much worse than sand as it makes you loose grip very easily. A slight bend with the road, banking to the wrong side can be enough to make you kiss the ground, as I learned on the last day of the trip.

And of course it fills the bike’s air filter, reducing the horse power of the YamahaXT even more (it only has about 40 to start with). I was the first one running into the problem and as the problem only occured around 3000m above sea level we were not sure whether I have a problem with the carburator or the filter. And so we removed the filter completly and I had the honor to lead the pack up the pass. Weeeee!!!! :)

This pretty much made clear where the problem was. Every other day, we removed the filter and washed it with gazoline and later Diesel, which was actually the better solution (but takes longer for the filter to dry and then built in again).

Lovely routine - cleaning the air filter
Lovely routine – cleaning the air filter

Biggest advantage of the dust you ask? The clogged nose, when you have to visit a toilet :)

Lodging in Kyrgyzstan

The speciality of our tour organizer Mutzoo is, to get you close to the people. So no fancy hotels. The most comfortable stay was in a guest house in Osh at the beginning and end of our tour. Guess to give us some sort of soft landing.

The next level of comfort were guest houses. They had a shower and toilets to sit on. All other nights were either spent in a yurt or with families who let us sleep in their rooms, either on beds or on the ground on mattress. When we spent the night in Yurts or Homesteads, there was often no tap water, the host family had to cary it from a river or source an the toilet was .. well a lil cabin wit a hole in the ground.

Sounds primitive? Maybe is. And yet it feels right at home when you combine it with the incredible hospitality of the people. In one case I even had the impression they emptied their living room and one bedroom to make room for us. The hosts might not be prepared to welcome a group of 7, but they always made it happen, even if Mama goes to sleep outside, next to the kitchen.

Yes, you can stay in a hotel when you travel. But if you want to get to know the locals, the culture and the way they live, don’t do it.

A Yurt may look primitive on the outside - but it is a very comfy place once you enter!
A Yurt may look primitive on the outside – but it is a very comfy place once you enter!
Hot and cold water in the bathroom.  the cold is to the left, the warm on the right, heated by an oven fed by cow pats.  Just juse a pot to mix it into a bowl and then you can rinse your body with warm water. (Photo by Toni Schnydrig)
Hot and cold water in the bathroom. the cold is to the left, the warm on the right, heated by an oven fed by cow pats.
Just juse a pot to mix it into a bowl and then you can rinse your body with warm water.
(Photo by Toni Schnydrig)
Yes.. the guest toilet is the one to the left. Simple to recognize as it is the one freshly painted ;) (Photo by Toni Schnydrig)
Yes.. the guest toilet is the one to the left. Simple to recognize as it is the one freshly painted ;)
(Photo by Toni Schnydrig)
Dining room. What a lovely room to have dinner on a warm late summer evening!
Dining room. What a lovely room to have dinner on a warm late summer evening!
Kitchen and the old lady's sleeping room to the right. Not sure she slept there because she prefered or made room for us...
Kitchen and the old lady’s sleeping room to the right. Not sure she slept there because she prefered or made room for us…
A liter of water gets filled into the bucket on top and then you press your hand against the little pin to release a dribble of water.  Works just great for washing hands or brushing your teeth
A liter of water gets filled into the bucket on top and then you press your hand against the little pin to release a dribble of water.
Works just great for washing hands or brushing your teeth

One word about public toilets in the city though… I really recommend to do your “business” in the hotel or restaurant. You know… there isn’t much privacy on these!

Public toilet - use at your own risk. And no, there are no doors at the stalls. But hey, there is water in the bucket if you want to wash your hands once your done... Photo by Toni Schnydrig
Public toilet – use at your own risk. And no, there are no doors at the stalls. But hey, there is water in the bucket if you want to wash your hands once your done…
Photo by Toni Schnydrig

Pictures and thoughts from someone exploring photography

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