Ongudai to Chui-Oozy (isn’t that a great word?)

(It means “at the mouth of the Chuya River”)

On what we thought was our last day in the Karakol Valley, we woke up to warm sunshine. Very exciting after all that rain. We didn’t really have time to get out and enjoy the morning, b/c we were expecting several folks to arrive for a meeting over lunch. They came all the way from Gorno-Altaisk just to meet with us, which was a nice honor on a Sunday. We talked in the sunshine, learning more about religion, politics, and family hierarchy in Altai and Kumandin families, where women are often very strong. Oh, and we talked a bit about work too, focusing on Republic-wide strategies for raising public awareness about the pitfalls of the gas pipeline and other stuff.

We took advantage of their car and asked them to drive us 5-6 kilometers up the valley that afternoon. They dropped us off and headed home, leaving us to walk back to camp. It was a gorgeous day, probably mid-70s and a light breeze blowing. The valley is very long (about 20-25 km) but pretty wide. Most everyone in it (3-4 villages of maybe 100-200 souls each) makes their living from livestock agriculture. We saw mixed herds of sheep and goats, cattle, and horses. There were lots of unbearably cute moments watching lambs and goat kids gamboling and leaping around.

At one point, as we walked through another verdant but somewhat overgrazed meadow, a little old lady hobbled toward us leaning on her cane. “Where did you come from?” (gesturing up the valley) “Have you seen any sheep?” Yes, we did, about a kilometer back. “A big herd?” Yes. “Oh. Not mine. Any other sheep?” No, sorry. That’s gotta be tough trying to track down your herd at that age. She had two teeth.

Upon returning, we sat down to await the return of the film crew. We were mildly concerned about them, given how awful the weather had been, especially considering that had planned to climb above the snow line. We gave up about 10pm and went to bed. We awakened to the sounds of hubbub around midnight – they were back. Cold and wet but moderately satisfied with their trek and totally in awe of Danil, their guide, and the nature around them. They had filmed in rain, hail, snow, sleet, and even a grudging bit of sunshine at the end.

We all woke up tired the next day, but it was at least mostly sunny with only occasional spats of rain. We continued on according to our plan to the village (more of a roadside stopover) Chui-Oozy, another 1.5 hours southeast. Danil kindly arranged not just to drive us there but to serve as cultural guide extraordinaire, stopping along the way to show us local history and ecology. We pulled into Chui-Oozy at dinner-time, worked our way fuzzily through a dinner meeting and early evening walk and then hauled our tired tired bodies off to bed. Over 10,000 Stone and Bronze Age petroglyphs and runic inscriptions, new visitor center (ail), and visiting with old friends. Alyson planted a pine tree, and I visited the one I had planted two years ago. I was surprised it was still alive, as this valley has zero natural trees.