Kyrgyzstan #1

18 Jul

Back in July…..


The Adventures of the Chocolate-Covered Goldfish Part 1: Finding the Perfect Snack

A guest blog by Patrick

Welcome to Kyrgyzstan!

After surviving the Inverse Hitch and Sammi’s run-in with the Border Guard, we waltzed into Kyrgyzstan with high spirits. From my journal: “We casually set off walking into one of the most beautiful sights I can remember – gorgeous rolling green fields with mountain backdrops and herds of horses galloping all over – so amazing!” It was a surreal landscape, and the stunning horses made the experience truly spectacular. They also added a layer of intrigue to the adventure. Are they dangerous? Can we just walk right through them? Why are they head banging? I wonder if they get tired running around all of the time?







We were delighted to take our first snack break in a new country (#teamsnackattack) and elated to find out that the Heinz (#pittsfurgh) steak-flavored chips we bought actually included Heinz steak sauce to dip them in. We may have licked the tub clean. We finished our snacks and started to hitch. We’d had such good luck in Kazakhstan – surely it would be the same here. Distracted by the beauty we prepared to flag down cars. Unfortunately, the cars just never came. And when they did, they were full. Uh oh, maybe this was going to be the hard bit!


This begs the question: what’s the most interesting snack accessory you’ve ever uncovered?



Patrick: “Should we keep walking or head back to the border?”

Sammi: “How about a snack break?”


The thing about hitchhiking is it works better when there are cars.


We eventually decided to walk back towards the border in the hopes of finding a ride before it set off. After a few hours with no luck, we eventually met a tour guide in a van on his way to collect some other tourists who were crossing over from Kazakhstan. He offered to give us a ride and was incredibly generous – he even gave us water and laid out the green carpet for us to wait on. We played the ‘Guess where the tourists we’re waiting for are from!” game and were both wrong – they were a super cool family (father, mother, and son) originally from Montreal. They were on a trip to celebrate their son’s graduation from middle school, and he had planned the trip after being inspired to travel to the former Soviet Republics by one of his teachers. My heart swelled thinking that students might actually be inspired by the adventures of their teachers!



Artificial turf couch. Check. Artificial turf bed. Check. Things are really going to get crazy if we find an artificial turf chair…


We made an interesting stop at a former caravanserai from the Silk Road. It wasn’t much but a mound and a pile of rocks, but it was incredible to think that thousands of years ago intrepid travelers stopped there for a night’s rest in the midst of a journey that would take them thousands of miles from Turkey to China. The rest of the ride to Karakol was gorgeous, as we wound through the hills along a river. There were tons of apiaries along the way, and it seemed like around every bend we found a stall selling local honey. We had a great conversation with the family from Montreal, and I was particularly excited because I was heading there for a week the following month. Our new friends wrote down a few suggestions on the box of their EpiPen, and I was more than happy to share the story of our chance encounter while dining at Les Enfants Terribles (the highest restaurant in Montreal) a few weeks later.


Stopping at a caravanserai, just like travelers thousands of years ago.


The best travel recommendations are always written on obscure pieces of paper.


We arrived in Karakol, a medium-sized city known as a tourist hub for the Issyk Kul region of Kyrgyzstan, and struggled to find wifi because we had to pee too badly. #notthefirsttime We eventually found a bathroom, a room to sleep in, and a restaurant with photos of everything on the menu (you know, because we don’t speak Kyrgyz!). Being the comprehensive travelers that we are, we set off down the main street of town to compare that restaurant to all of the other options. You never know when you’re going to find a photo of the same meal you were going to order that looks slightly better or that is slightly cheaper. Our trip through town was full of new Kyrgyz info: there were rotisserie chicken stands everywhere (the chicken looked better from afar), flowers for sale all over the place, and an incredibly popular stand on the corner of the sidewalk with a line down the street. “What do you think she’s selling?” Sammi asked. There was a table with two large containers of mysterious drink – one was wrapped in blue and the other in red. We guessed coffee, which was pretty much exactly what we didn’t need, but decided we just had to try the most popular drink in town. We bought one of both color because we have no self-control and were surprised to discover two different flavors of fermented milk. Sammi almost convinced herself that it tasted good, but eventually followed my lead and threw most of her cup away.


It’s got to be good.


We returned to the original ‘photo’ restaurant convinced it was the best option, but after Sammi took our waitress outside (where the photo banners were) to order she returned with a disappointed look. “They were out of pretty much all of our first choices.” Note to self: they don’t always have everything in Kyrgyzstan. Luckily, our meal was saved because we did successfully order one thing that was sizzling. #fajitasinsidejoke


“I wish we spoke Krgy…, Kygyr…, K….” “You mean Kyrgyz?”


For our evening quest we chose a noble venture: visit every magazine (shop) in town looking for the best snack to buy. We’ve been playing this game for years (this pretty much accounts for 30% of Sammi and I’s travels), but it was SO MUCH FUN to formalize it. We Very Hungry Caterpillar’ed or way through Karakol, encountering a towering statue in a park (“WHAT DOES IT MEAN?”) while eating a multitude of snacks of the dessert variety. The stores literally just had giant boxes of different cookies that you could buy by the gram, and we quickly realized that meant we could try one of everything. (#theme #youliketotryeverythingdontyou) We were momentarily convinced that we had found the best snack in town when we pulled a chocolate ice cream bar made from camel’s milk out of the freezer, but Sammi’s reaction (captured in the photo below) suggested otherwise.


If it’s not camel ice cream, what is it?


After posing for a series of photos with a confusing sign (“Oh! They’re GLASSES!!!”) and navigating a coin-saving controversy, we finally found Kyrgyz gold. Tucked away in a corner of a shop was a box of goldfish. You know, like we used to eat as kids. But they were CHOCOLATE!!! What? I immediately bought a handful, only to discover that these were goldfish crackers covered in milk chocolate. Mind. Officially. Blown. I started to place a larger order when Sammi rightfully challenged me. “Why wouldn’t we buy all of them they had?” Yes, and! We bought every last chocolate-covered goldfish we could find in Karakol, and the adventures of the chocolate-covered goldfish had begun…


“That’s right. We even want you to scrape in the broken ones.”


This was such a good price. Do you know what these go for on the black market?


Stay tuned for fish-y updates.

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