As we pedalled past Ugut we reflected on the last time we were here after following a very muddy shortcut in the pouring rain with Katie, and the amazing hospitality of the two sisters who invited us in and fed us.
This time we were dry and clean and had just 17km of repeat road before the turn off at Aktal and across the bridge over the Naryn river. This would lead us back into a forested mountain gorge and an amazing zigzag road up the southern route to the well known Son Kul at 3000m.
We stopped at a small, new shop in the village before the climb and met the young owner who was building up the business and hoped one day to have a tourist cafe as well. In the meantime he was kept busy with 2 young boys and his wife in hospital about to give birth to the third child.
As a young lad he loved the annual 3 month summer escape with his family to Son Kul and the jailoo (or grazing pastures). The children spent their school holiday break riding horses, tending flocks and not having to think about anything. As an adult he moved to Bishkek, studied English at University, got married and started a family and was then drawn back to his home village and starting a business. Sadly he had been so busy he had yet had time to return to Son Kul. There were no tourists there in his childhood days so he may be disappointed when he does get there with his family.
Having said that, we were surprised how undeveloped the southern side of the lake was. We camped, but took advantage of the wonderful food of a family run yurt camp for the night we were there. The weather was perfect for us.
We loved the low key ride out from Son Kul via the western route, scratching our head at times wondering whether we were still on track. Nearer the pass the track became a road and then a 1500m dive back down to the valley floor and a 20c ice cream at the first shop we found.
The next 50km down the wide Jumgal river valley were pleasant travel on a paved road – only marred by confessions of adoration by a drunk local in a wreck of a Lada who stopped his car where we were eating our second ice cream of the day…