Aksu-Zhabagly National Park, Kazakhstan

Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
Trip End Aug 10, 2007

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Flag of Kazakhstan  ,
Friday, May 25, 2007

The trip from Turkistan to Almaty took us almost four days, but we spent one full day and two nights camping in Aksu-Zhabagly Nature Reserve in the Tian Shan mountains near the Kyrgyx border.  Protected since the 1920s, A.Z. is the oldest nature reserve in Central Asia and the former Soviet world.  Individuals and small groups frequently enter the reserve for hiking and climbing, but our group of 20 camping there was a first for them, and being a strictly protected area we were required to hike in groups accompanied by a ranger.  I joined the faster of the two groups that set out on walks of different lengths and difficulties and found our ranger/guide Urumbek liked to move at an exhaustingly rapid pace with frequent rest stops, not exactly my preference.  The reserve protects brown bears, eagles, ibex, and snow leopards, but our wildlife sightings consisted only of a lone ibex high on a ridge, some fresh bear scat, and recent wild boar footprints.

The higher elevations of eastern Kyrgyzstan are very green, and the areas where the mountains meet the plains look remarkably similar to the landscape along Colorado's Front Range.  Because of the similar continental climate, many of the plants are similar to those in the western U.S. and include some of those like foxtail lilies, wild roses, Russian sage, Siberian iris, and wild tulips that widely used as garden plants back home.

My cook group was up for the first time on our second night at A.Z.  Jo, Carr, and I did our shopping the previous morning at the bazaar in Turkistan where the $3/day per person our Betsy gave us to spend from kitty for three meals didn't get us all that far.  Yes, that works out to $66 to feed 22 people three meals, and our "kitty manager" was quite zealous about cook groups not spending more than that because we had spent more than planned on hotels in Russia, regardless of how much or little food could be bought with that amount.  Heaven forbid we'd have to contribute a little more for shared expenses at the end of the trip!  So to stay within budget and avoid buying the unpleasant meat in the bazaar food halls we decided on a vegetarian dinner of spanish omelette, lentil curry, cauliflower with cheese sauce, and several salads.  However, our campsite at A.Z. was next to the park ranger's house, and I couldn't help noticing the big hutch overflowing with dozens of rabbits running in and out, so many of them that they obviously must be raising them for sale.  This started me thinking about supplementing our dinner with a dish of rabbit in beer/mustard sauce; I'd buy the bunnies out of my own pocket so we could have some meat, and Ben was willing to skin them for me.  Even the best thought out plans don't always come to fruition, though.  When we asked the ranger if we could buy some bunnies he looked quite horrified that we'd covet his pets for the cook pot.

We stopped quite late on our last night of camping before Almaty only to have a brief gusty thunderstorm make a mess out of our campsite just as we finished setting up.  The following morning we had a visitor stop by our campsite who just happened to be a Kyrgyz border guard who noticed us on his way to work and informed us that the site we picked a short distance from the main road was actually on the Kyrgyz side of the Kyrgyzstan/Kazakhstan border.  It wasn't much of an issue, but I guess I should now add Kyrgyzstan to my list of countries visited on this trip.


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