May 30-31

Kyrgyzstan

We left the hotel in the Issyk-Kul Kyrgyzstan region and rode into the mountains and foothills that were high summer pastures for shepherds. There was snow high in the mountains. We reached an altitude of about 7,000 feet and then visited a shepherd family. They put on a display of horsemanship that was quite interesting and reminiscent of a book that my father wrote years ago called The Terrible Game. In this book he described a game called "the terrible game of ott (horse)." Among other activities, they slaughtered a goat, cut off its head and hooves and then divided the carcass. Teams tried to get their goat carcass into the other person's goal. There really were no apparent rules, the trick was to pick the carcass up off the ground, tuck the goat under your leg and then gallop away with other people pursuing and grabbing the goat. The leg is stronger than the arm, so possession was the key. There was a lot of pushing and pulling with horses shoving into each other amid shouts of glee. The participants were not like the ones that George Crile witnessed in Afghanistan – grown men with aggressive horses and aggressive ponies. These were younger men, probably the oldest was 30, and the horses were not bred for just this game. When their game was over, three of us took on their winning team and got badly trounced. But it was an absolutely exhilarating exercise, like wrestling in many respects. But it also involved strategy, with the main trick being to separate your attackers from your leader (who is holding your sheep) with your horse, thus driving the defenders away. It was a real workout and I am sore all over with a number of black and blue marks.

The upper pastures were bright green, and in almost every valley you could see at least one summer residence for shepherds. The Kyrgyzstan people are nomadic and during the summer they move their flocks to the upper pastures. During the winter they return to the villages. The pastures were extremely productive and did not look heavily grazed. There was a vast expanse of valleys that were miles across with steep, young mountains in the background. We drove down through mountain roads, perhaps 20 miles, barely passable by automobile, but easily traversed by motorcycle. The shaking loosened the windscreen on my motorcycle (which I was able to fix by the end of the day). When we reached the hotel, our major focus was changing the oil and doing maintenance on our motorcycles. My skid plate and crash bars design required removal of both to change the oil – so much for German engineering.

It was a very memorable day and it made me think about my father and his novel. I was happy that I finally played the terrible game of ott, although less dramatically than as his son was to have played it in the novel.

Marge and Mary leave tonight. They were a great addition to the group and will be missed. We leave at 7:00 am and ride to Almaty, back to Kazakhstan. We'll be riding through mountain passes on dirt roads – it should be a gas.

That's all for now.

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