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Published: August 13th 2012
Hello again! I know it has been a while since my last entry and I have a lot to update you with this time. Currently I am in Bishkek and the internet is awful and they charge by the kilobyte, so I can't upload pictures now. I will do so when I get back to China (after 5-6 days I think).
Let me start by sharing my experiences at Aksu-Zhababyly Nature Reserve in Southern Kazakhstan. I arrived in the mid-afternoon at the small town near the park entrance. There is a place mentioned in the Lonely Planet that has guides and other services. So I went to see about the "other services" i.e. lodging. So they drove me up to their little camp (they charge to drive you 8km to stay at THEIR hotel. That is some bullshit) and I met a Dutch guy also staying there. We shared a yurt together and decided to hike together the following day. After some consultation with the owner of the camp (also a Dutch guy, go figure) we mapped out a route that would take us into the Nature Reserve without paying AND, more importantly, not having to pay a mandatory guide.
My home for a couple of days near the national park
We also learned that fewer than 400 non-Kazakhs visit this reserve every year. ~One per day is not many. We (Kees' pr: "case", the Dutch guy) were promised to see bears, giant marmots (1 meter in length!) and other wildlife on our trek.
We woke up early the following day (August 8, 2012) and started out! We saw NO wildlife aside from birds and hiked a LOT. We hiked up to about 3500 meters and were rewarded with spectacular views! There was the Kazakh steppe on one side, and huge mountains on the other. We ate a picnic lunch of sardines, bread, peanuts, and raisens, and soaked in the scenery. The hike up was quite difficult. The hike down was twice as bad. We had to scramble down glaciers and go over some really steep and rocky terrain. We made it back 14 hours later without injury. We started at 6am and ended at 8pm. Definitely my longest hiking day ever. That night we ate a nice, overpriced dinner at the guesthouse and we could see the Milky Way. I think it is the first time I've ever seen it. First that I can remember anyway.
day we hired a 4WD to take us to Aksu Canyon about 20km away. It took about an hour to get there because the roads were so bad. We had to drive through a river and everything. Pretty cool actually. This time we had to pay the entry and guide fee. The guid was totally useless and didn't speak English. He just hiked ahead and waited for us at the bottom of the canyon. At the bottom there is a glacier river and you can swim in it ...If you want. I got all the way in and it was absolutely freezing!!! It is a brilliant blue color and surrounded by Grand Canyon-like walls. It is a really nice setting. We ate another picnic back at the top of the edge of the canyon. Again you could see spectacular high mountains in the background.
That afternoon we returned to Shymkent and stayed at the same hotel that I was in before. We finished the evening with beers at a local bar where we were a bit of an attraction for the local crowd (one of whom was a taxi driver that gave us a free ride to the bus
The first snow
We were very excited to hike all the way up to the snow (at first)
terminal the follwing day!) More on that later... Again, sorry for no pictures. Check again in about a week!!!
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