We were both wide awake in the middle of the night, with no clue why. We were in separate twin beds, so it wasn't like we were tossing and turning to wake up the other person. Justin got back asleep a little after 4, Crystal after that. Then we had to be up at 7:15, for breakfast at 8. There was porridge, hard-boiled eggs (but still warm), yogurt (which we added jam to), bread, and some other stuff. It was frankly too much stuff for people who don't eat breakfast, but we felt bad about not eating it, particularly since we were the only guests at the B&B.

We were off at 9, headed east again. But first we had to backtrack a bit, to get back out of the valley nad back onto the "main" highway. Once there, we were driving along the north shore of Issyk-Kul lake, a large alpine lake in northeast Kyrgyztan. At Cholpon-Ata, a sizeable town on the north shore, we stopped to look at a few things. The first stop was a petroglyph museum, which was sort of a stone garden, with petroglyphs going back millenia. Some of the oldest were about 3000 years old, and it was interesting to think that while people in Kyrgyzstan were carving pictures on stones, the Egyptian empire was already well-established and the pyramids were already 1500 years old. From the petroglyphs we went to a museum in Cholpan-Ata. We weren't scheduled to go here, but Jalil said that the museum here was similar to the one in Karakol that we were scheduled to visit, and he wasn't sure we'd make it to Karakol before the museum closed. The museum had a lot of information about the history of the area, and the country as a whole. Unlike the empires in Persia and Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan was mostly nomadic, and there were not large cities or permanent establishments. So the history was far more basic because of that.

Jalil mentioned that during the summer Cholpon-Ata is full of tourists, but today it was pretty empty. The weather was nice, with temperatures in the high 60s or low 70s, and mostly sunny. We had lunch outside, which was nice except for the fact that every other person eating outside was smoking. The food came out at different times again, but not as bad as the day before, when Justin's food came out about 15 minutes after everyone elses. When we got back in the car, we almost saw an accident, as someone was waiting to turn left across traffic, but just as they started to turn another car tried to pass on the left, so the car that wasn't turning had to come into oncoming traffic (and where we were parked) to avoid hitting the turning car. It could have been really bad, as we weren't even buckled into our seatbelts yet. Interestingly, the person who tried to pass actually came back about 30 seconds later to make sure everything was okay, and to apologize. This was weird - to us. Perhaps this happens all the time in other countries.

We kept heading east the northern bank of the river, and we stopped in Ananyevo to pick up Sergei, the director of the NABU rehabilitation center. We had stumbled upon NABU whilst searching for places to (possibly) see Snow Leopards in Kyrgyzstan. There are very few snow leopards left anywhere, but Kyrgyzstan has a decent population. NABU established anti-poaching activities, and cares for injured and orphaned snow leopards. We asked MIR if we could schedule something with NABU, and they did some diligence to see if it was possible (no one had ever asked before, and they weren't familiar with NABU). When we originally booked the itinerary called only for us to meet with someone from the center, but not go to the center itself. MIR told us that going to the center would be contingent on the health of the animals. When we were in Iran, we got an email stating that we would in fact be able to go to the center, so we were cautiously optimistic this would actually happen. Now it was.

It was aumpy drive northwards, straight towards the Kazakhstan border. We were talking with Sergei, who has been in charge for most (if not all) of the time NABU has had the center. He mentioned that they have a staff of 6 people - the director, four rangers, one other person (we can't remember his role). He gave us some history on the animals they've had, and how they came to be in NABU's care. Two were caught in customs as people tried to smuggle them out. Some were caught in a circus truck, hidden in a small cage between a tiger and a lion. With the snow leopards they cared for, there was some mating going on. Of those animals, some went to zoos, but like Mountain Gorillas sadly snow leopards do not seem to do well in captivity. We can't remember everything Sergei told us, but today they had an old male, old female, and an adult female (4 years).

After about 30 minutes driving, we got to the center where Sergei opened the gate. At the "parking lot" we met one of the rangers, who looked like the famous photo of Vladimir Putin on a horse, but the ranger actually had his shirt on. Near the parking lot was a lynx, who we mistakenly thought was a snow leopard because it was white. The lynx was all over the place, and a couple times freaked out Rames by hissing loudly in close proximity. Jalil and Rames had never been here - or even heard about it - and they had never seen a lynx or snow leopard either. They were taking as many pictures and video as we were.

The NABU center also had lots of birds - a black kite, a buzzard, a golden eagle, and one or two others. From the bird area we walked uphill to the snow leopard enclosures, which were very sizeable. There was an adult male awake, but not moving. He reminded us of our senior English bulldog Omar, who doesn't move if it's not for food. There was also an adult female asleep, not in great health. Apparently she is near the end of the line, and having issues breathing, which is too bad. Today she looked very peaceful, just resting, in a different enclosure but not far from the male. Perhaps the male was staying where he was to be close to her. Maybe we're just projecting. We couldn't locate the other adult female, who was in an enormous enclosure and could have been hiding pretty much anywhere. We kept hoping the male would move, but it never happened. What we saw, however, was infinitely better than nothing, particularly since there are only 1000 or so snow leopards on the whole planet. It was good to see Jalil and Rames enjoying themselves, we were happy we expanded the range of possible tourist spots, and hoped that MIR might expand itineraries for future guests. On the drive back to the highway, we saw a snowstorm coming down to the east of us. We got back on the highway around 4pm, and kept driving east towards Karakol, listening to podcasts (including Justin listening to a House of Carbs podcast about food delivery services, which seemed about a million miles away from what we were seeing in rural northeast Kyrgyzstan).

We got to Karakol just as the sun was coming down. Our first stop in town was a Chinese mosque, the Dungan Mosque. It was built over 100 years ago, and combines artwork from China with more traditional designs. Lots of Chinese muslims left China in the early 1900s to escape persecution, and stopped in Kyrgyzstan. [Ironically just a decade before the Soviets formed the USSR and stopped the practice of Islam in Kyrgyzstan and elsewhere in the USSR.] From the mosque we next visited a Russian orthodox church, and then an old Russian style building. It was now dark, so whatever else might have been on the itinerary was not doable. Before even going to our hotel, we stopped at dinner at a local house. Jalil mentioned that there are several families that make extra money by serving meals at their house, and they help provide places to stay for guides and drivers as well, particularly during the summer season when it is packed everywhere. We had fried caulifllower, sherpa soup, samosas, bread, and stir-fry veg. The hostess asked Crystal questions about marriage in the US whilst Justin was in the bathroom.

There was cake, which was good, but by that time we were full. Jalil was not, so he had two. The hostess introduced us to her daughter Karina, who is 15 and thinking about coming to the US for study abroad. We told her that Justin went to Russia when he was 16, and that he really enjoyed it, so she should go if she has the opportunity. The daughter was very shy, and even with her mom's prompting she spoke very little. We wished her well, and gave her our contact information if she had any questions going forward. When we finally got to our hotel, we were surprised. We had thought we were staying in a yurt tonight, but that wasn't right. Our hotel (the Green Yard) had a yurt, but we were not actually staying in the yurt. Instead, we had a really nice room in the corner of a floor. We bought a bottle of wine and brought it back upstairs, then logged in and read the news. This included the news that the US had dropped out of Unesco, which evoked a collective "WTF?!" from both of us. Again, we really need to stop reading the news, at least until 2020. We got to sleep around 10.

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