The border was a busy trading hub, a green river of watermelons seemed to roll down the hill in a bustling trade, as traders from the silk bazaar gawped and greeted our weary progress. At every other border a horde of money exchangers have been spitting rates into our faces, here there were none. After questioning the crowd, I was led in through a shop to a king in white, enthroned on a wicker chair. He had a long imperious beard, it started from his chin charcoal black, blending to white-silver at the end that then became one with his white cotton robes. It acted as a scoresheet for his life. His eyes belied a mind sharp as his movements in counting, he was given a respectful space by the crowd outside - it was as if his aura alone was enough to generate his monopoly here. He probably had forgotten how to make mistakes decades ago and his rates were within 1% of google's. It is hard to know why this limited and functional interaction stuck, a man who's mastered a craft any sort is a sight to behold perhaps.
Kyrgzstan was a relief from the relatively over-populated Fergana valley, the shoulders come down and the mind opens when houses and cars fall away. The breath may remain the same length and depth, but every part of it is better perceived. I had not felt this as keenly before, and as this cycle progresses, I've come to understand more clearly that I won't be living in a city in the long-run. This leaning was further emboldened by the finest day's cycling I've ever enjoyed on the river valley road up to Lake Toktogul.
We had stayed the night before in at the stony base of a river canyon, insulated from the small town nearby the a decrepit bridge that was utterly impassible to cars. We had counted on a peaceful night and were disturbed just once by two torchlights. Flight or Fight kicked in in the dark, and we firmly confronted the invaders, who took the form of a young couple smooching likely having jubilantly escaped from their parents living rooms.
Come morning the peachy sky dripped its nectar over the valley sides, revealing to us how little we had been able to savour of our bedroom's scenery. No music or audio-books were required in the day's cycling, the content would have been drowned out by the show-reel of valley landscapes unveiled by every cliff corner.
People often use jewels to describe bodies of water, but this river seemed more luminous than any stone, it vibrated with colour. The river held the chromatic center of the landscape, but the cliffs gave the drama in form and structure: the abrupt angles of sedimentary rock split and pulled your perspective. The cliff-side shrubs- sharp yellow thorn bushes and deep purple lavender - adorned the place with nature's majesty. Not a settlement in sight, one twisting road just enough for the valley to show itself to the world.
This steady and spellbinding climb climaxed with Lake Toktogul, a great natural reservoir cradled between two mountain ridges. We arrived in time for a swim at dusk, in water so clear almost as not to be there at all. Finished with a carp dinner, we had truly carpe(-d) diem. As a whole, I thought the day was the very finest so far, a shining time to remember in the next dustbowl.