3 days ago I invited my Kazakh host, Svetlana, to accompany me on a walk up the Almaty Mountains. Now Svetlana is originally from Russia, and is a stay at home Mum to 2 kids, currently learning English and has a Husband. She is beautifully sweet, kind and has manicured toe and fingernails.
We clambered into the bus just before 8am on Sunday with around 50 other people with the same idea to go hiking in the hills.
The hills certainly are alive with the sound of people in Almaty in Summer. From the bottom of the mountains along the rivers to high up, there are groups of people having bbqs, picnics, kicking a ball or drinking tea (possibly vodka too.) It really is amazing to see so many Kazak’s getting into nature. It’s also common at 8pm to see young families heading out to the parks or grassy areas – just when I’m thinking about heading to bed!
We started our walk, which was not at all the walk I thought we were going to do. I had a bag of warm clothes (just in case) for high up, but we were walking across a small (for the Almaty mountains) ridgeline. I had wondered how Svetlana would get on with her flimsy, thin walking shoes. By 8am it was nearly 30 degrees and it was going to blue open sky all day. I certainly wouldn’t need my thermals!
It did feel like an awful tour group walking up the steep track to start our walk, so when the track divided we took the route only 1 man, his wife and young son took.
We scrambled along a river bed and the guy told Svetlana (in Russian) that this was an easier route along the river the whole way. I was happy as rock hoping along the icy cold river was challenging and there was no one else but us around. It was truly beautiful.
The trail got progressing harder, more covered in thick undergrowth, big boulders to jump over, and fallen logs to cross. And by this stage both our feet were wet and it was slow going trying to navigate our way and pick paths through the growth. I felt like I was on the NZ Coast to Coast track.
A few times Svetlana asked if I wanted to turn back but I refused. The time it would take to walk back to then be at the start of the track didn’t make sense to me.
“Let’s just keep going forward. Slowly slowly. It’s ok” I said.
The guy who apparently knew the track turned back as his son hurt his leg and we kept going.
We were now travelling around 1km/hr and having no option but to walk through big bushes of stinging nettle and rose or trudging through the frozen river. I was excited for the stinging nettle (it’s an amazing healing herb) and had pockets of it which painstakingly stung me even more. We had scratches all over our bodies and bruised up legs from failing and slipping on the slimy rocks.
It has started to feel like a chore that wouldn’t end rather than lots of fun anymore.
By now I’d realised that we were heading for a steep cliff and the only way out was the climb to the ridge above (were we should’ve been walking) some 250m high. A few places I suggested, Svetlana understandably shook her head no.
“Too dangerous” she said, and I didn’t have the heart to tell her I believed it was only going to get worse. I was secretly hoping there might be an easier way.
We were both really tired having been scrambling for over 3 hours in intense heat (I was fasting so not my normal energetic self which meant we were quite evenly matched.)
I looked up and could see tiny silhouette of people.
“Just up there!” I yelled.
It then took the next hour of heaving our way up the near cliff face, hanging onto plant life to save us from falling down, slipping, sliding and pulling us up and through the thick growth.
We crawled out onto the track gasping.
If that was an adventure race, it wouldn’t been a hard and cruel adventure. For me, I was used to crazy feats, but Svetlana had never done anything like that (not even climbing trees) in her life.
“Extreme adventure” Svetlana said to me, her face bright red and drained, her arms and legs carved with deep red scratches, bruises already showing on her legs.
I was so impressed by her.
The rest of the walk was super easy in comparison. Although both our legs and arms were painfully sore, burning and irritated. We kept laughing about it
“I’ll remember this for the rest of my life” exclaimed Svetlana.
We were picked up by her husband, 3yr young child and their friend and we had hot tea alongside the river with groups of other people enjoying the sunshine.
By 8:15pm I was feeling exhausted and thinking of meditating and going to bed and Svetlana (who was feeling so tired she couldn’t eat anything) told me we were going out walking in town.
Her 3 yr, 9 yr children, her husband and I then walked around the beautiful town of Almaty until 10pm. Because, that’s what you do.
Feeling so blessed to be living my life.
And that was only the little entrée of what was to come 2 days later…..
My adventure race became a little more demanding, scary, isolating and exhausting.
Check my next post. You won’t want to miss this one!
I can barely walk today…. 🤕😏