We meet at last!

After our leisurely week driving around lake Yssyk-Kol we finally headed for Naryn, our rendezvous point with the French.

En-route we stopped off at Kochkor where we visited the Altyn Kol women's collective that makes and sells shyrdaks (felt carpets). The collective has now moved from the address given in Lonely Planet to 133S. Orozbak Street. Recommended.

The town also houses the "Shepherd's Life" project that arranges accommodation in local villages. See www.novinomad.com or www.tourism.elcat.kg.

On the road to Naryn we met our first British overlanders since Istanbul, Georgie Simmonds and Simon McCarthy on a fine BMW motorbike. Their route from the UK had been similar to ours and they too were keeping a web site.

Les Brook greets Andre Bertrand.We (the Anglophones) were expecting to spend the night of the 9th of July on our own at the Celestial Mountains Guesthouse in Naryn and then welcome the French on the 10th. However this was not to be!

Whilst climbing the Doon Pass (3035m) between Sary Bulak and Naryn in a hail storm we noticed four other campervans several kilometers behind us.

Not wanting to meet the French in the wet we drove on to a suitable (dry) river side parking place where we all lined up with out head lights and hazard flashers on to meet them.

After a warm and friendly meeting, with hugs all round, we all drove on to Naryn together.

All nine campervans just managed to fit in the parking lot of the Celestial Mountains Guesthouse (also known as the English Guesthouse) run by the same English led group as the Silk Road Lodge in Bishkek. Recommended. Unfortunately just as we started the welcome party (with French wine supplied by the English!) a 35 metre long Rotel Tour bus and sleeping trailer arrived with 30 plus German tourists. After much moving of campervans we eventually managed to get everyone in!

Because of the potential problems of crossing the Torugart pass we had arranged with Celestial Mountains Travel Agency (CMTA) in Bishkek for a "guide/interpreter" to accompany us to the Chinese border (Cost $150 to $350 depending on return travel arrangements). We also asked CMTA to supply the ten stamped copies of the list of people and vehicles (with a Cyrillic translation of names) that makes the Kyrgyzstan side of the border less time consuming.

In addition to these documents we arranged for China Comfort (the Paris based company that had arranged our itinerary in China) to fax us evidence that we were to be met at the Chinese side of the border by an "approved" travel agency. This document also gave us the names and contact cell phone numbers of our Chinese guides.

Stop Press: On the morning of the 11th our guide, on finding that the French did not have Kyrgyzstan visas, but were relying on the "72 hour rule" allowing transit of one CIS country by those holding a visa to an adjacent CIS country, suggested that this might be a problem. A phone call to CMTA confirmed that this was indeed a problem!

To be continued...

Stephen Stewart.

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