Ontor Pass – Kyrgyzstan

Djigit Peak Glacier

Planning hikes to lesser-known areas in Kyrgyzstan is always a bit of an adventure.  We aren’t allowed to drive, so we have to find a taxi driver (who will lie about knowing the area) with a car suitable to drive up some terrible road.  You also rarely have reliable information about what exactly you will find if the hike anything but the most commonly visited trails.  AJ, a fellow PCV and Andre, a Dutch friend who owns a guesthouse in Karakol and I took a trip this past summer to Ontor Pass.  Ontor Pass isn’t hiked more than a few times a year so it was a bit hard to know exactly what the hike would entail but it looked amazing and we really wanted to give it a shot.  In early July we met up in Karakol and caught a taxi into Karakol National Park to give it a shot.

The first day started out with rain. Heavy rain. No taxi ride in Kyrgyzstan seems to be complete without some complication, this day our driver decided to pretend to misunderstand the bridge we said we wanted to be dropped off leaving us with an extra mile hike in (just an extra mile in pouring rain.)  The beginning portion of the hike is up a road and is heavily trekked.  Many people come up this road before turning left to see Lake Ala Kol.  After passing the Ala Kol turnoff, the rain subsided.  Soon, we reached a junction in Karakol Valley, we elected to go up the left side.  The path we were taking would end up making a large loop and we expected to be exiting the right side of the valley in about 48 hours.

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Thermal Baths, Fancy Cafes & Oktoberfest? Budapest!

Budapest Sunset

Continuing to take advantage of cheap access to Europe, we went on another trip in October.  A little late posting about this but I wanted to share what we did (and pictures.)  First up, Budapest!  Budapest was one of those cities that everyone seems to know of but we really didn’t know anything about.  We turned to our favorite travel source… Anthony Bourdain.  It can be a little frustrating watching his show because he gets to do things we never will be able to – I’m pretty sure legendary cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond was not going to escort us around the city – but we did get some ideas to get started.  Here are a few of the best parts of Budapest.

New York Café was one of our first stops.  This place is probably the fanciest looking restaurant we’ve ever been to.  Like most of the tourists there we skipped the food since it’s pretty pricey and just had espressos and hot chocolates.  The hot chocolate tasted like they just melted an entire chocolate bar into a cup, it was incredible.  The history of the place is pretty interesting to.  Many super famous and important writers used to hang out there in the middle of the 20th century and it was a bit of a hangout for citizens who weren’t so happy with the political situation of the time.  It was bombed heavily during World War II and even rammed by a Soviet tank in 1956.

The Central Market Hall is Budapest’s largest indoor market.  It’s pretty touristy but as always when we leave Kyrgyzstan the sight of pork is pretty exciting and there’s tons of it for sale here.  We ate lunch at one of the vendors in the market which was pretty excellent food but the vendors dealing with tourists all day made them a little less than friendly.  Still, a pretty fun place to check out.

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