08/26/21 – 1000 Miles Later, That’s a Wrap
Cocovan on the Steppe
42.33294° N, 78.23645° E
These were the coordinates Ashley sent to a girl we didn’t even know, hoping she’d show up with her participatory art project, The World Letter. And to our delight, the next day, Cocovan strode across the grass to meet us with an enormous scroll under her arm. With a little negotiating we rented her a horse and set off together. The World Letter is a collection of scrolls with the wishes for humanity from over 20,000 participants enshrined on its white paper. With signatures from citizens from over 135 countries, the letter has gone meta: it’s a love letter to the world from the world.
The last guest of our journey was thus an unexpected one; Coco brought a fresh breath of inspiration to our team. Though we were tired from three months of travel, a new challenge awaited us: help Coco bring her love letter to nomads in the Kyrgyz mountains.
In the distance, a dozen people gathered in front of a bright white yurt encircled by a wooden fence. “That’d be a great way to get a lot of signatures!,’ we thought, so we rode up. A man standing out front, Norbek, invited us in before he could even see the whites of our eyes. Entering the yurt, a huge feast decorated the table; we’d shown up to a party uninvited. But since foreigners at your party is considered a sign of good luck, the Kyrgyz pushed us into the seats for guests of honor. The other star of the day was Norbek’s one year-old daughter, who took her first steps the week prior; the tocho toy party was to celebrate her newfound mobility and is a milestone in Kyrgyz family life. As they bent over the letter to leave their note for humanity, we could feel the love.
The next morning, the city of Karakol sprawled out below us for the first time. The end of our trek? 66,000 people call Karakol home; after 3 months in the mountains, seeing one or two families a day, it looked like Shanghai. We couldn’t imagine finishing there. And so our trek became longer.
The End in Altyn Aranshan
Driven into Erneste’s hotel the night before by pouring rain, we awoke with hangovers to bid Coco goodbye. She and Erneste bumped down the road south to Karakol city, while we rode north, planning to reach the renowned Altyn Arashan. Issyk Kul region of Kyrzystan is home to towering mountains that rise straight up, many with peaks over 5000m. This limited the mountain passes we could safely navigate with the horses to those near the mouths of the valleys. Each day we covered only a dozen kilometers; we had no more destination, just the knowledge that the clock was ticking down; we’d soon no longer spend every moment with our horses.
Cold rain caught us mid-morning. The clouds cleared, and a few hundred meters higher, we saw a dusting of fresh snow. The icy fingers of winter were not far away. Our stallions’ hormones dropped off in the last weeks, and they became cuddly like cats, mostly. Determined to be the exception to the rule, Tian had a dramatic morning exchange with a passing black stallion; as he levaded, caprioled and ballotaded in the air, the black stallion watched, wondering, ‘who is this fool?’
What Happens to the Horses?
Running low on food, it was time to rejoin civilization. The quiet village of Ak Suu, 15km after Karakol, welcomed us as we prepared to transport Fidel, Tian and Chaï. Hélène Guillerm, who helped us prepare the trek by teaching us to shoe a horse, agreed to give our boys their forever home. In Kyrgyzstan, where horses are sold in the blink of an eye as soon as there is a veterinary problem or times are tough economically, Hélène buying our boys is the very best home we could offer them.
For two days, we scoured the markets and streets of Karakol, looking for the perfect truck to transport the boys four hours west, to Hélène’s farm outside the village of Tokmok. Cinderella would be proud: we found a truck with wooden floors, not metal, a double cab, plenty of space to tie them, and even a driver who spoke English. Our stomachs turning in knots, we bumped down the road, but the boys didn’t bat an eyelash; they napped in the truck all the way to Rot Front. A far cry from fighting in the back of the trailer on the first day we bought them, four months ago.
Days passed, but we stayed in Kyrgzystan, finishing up little projects here and there, and preparing to return to France. A week before we left for good, we visited the boys and Hélène one last time, to shake her hand Kyrgyz-style. We said a tearful goodbye and thank you to Fidel, Tian and Chai. 1000 miles spent together has changed all five of our lives for the better. We know we will see them again.