Kyrgyzstan #4

22 Jul

The Adventures of the Chocolate Covered Goldfish – Part 4

A guest blog by Patrick

We awoke to a gorgeous sunrise over Issyk Kul, and enjoyed a breakfast sharing our favorite (and least favorite) places to travel to with the group of British boys we had met the night before. After packing up the chocolate-covered goldfish and the rest of our backpacks, we savored our final few moments in our yurt before hitting the road. We were essentially starting our trip back to Pittsburgh, with overnight pit stops in Bishkek (Kryzgryzygyryzstan’s capital) and Almaty. We thought our luck had continued in Bokonbayevo when we found ourselves with the entire backseat to ourselves as our taxi set off on the four-hour journey to Bishkek. Unfortunately, we were instead offered up a Double Downgrade as we stopped and picked up an extra passenger and then were ushered into a car with non-working windows. And we thought the Inverse Hitch was bad! I summed up the ride in my journal as follows: “So hot, so uncomfortable.” We did manage to secure some delicious peaches at a stop along the way, and the Kazakh lady who tried as hard as she could to speak English with us was grateful when we offered her some. #SharePoint We were luckily given the opportunity to pee as well, which would have been better had there not been a man pooping right next to me.

We arrived in Bishkek feeling hot and exhausted, but the local shop we were dropped off near had neither Coke nor water, which forced us to flee towards town in search of fluids. Luckily, the gas station we stumbled upon had ICE CREAM, which gave us an opportunity to compare a Magnum to the local ice cream. Talk about a mismatch! We wandered into town along shady, tree-lined streets in search of wifi. We found a cinema (which we definitely returned to!), passed through the university, ate some cake (#youliketotryeverythingdontyou), and finally located wifi at a cafe where the food looked way better than it tasted. We made a plan for our 24 hours in Bishkek, booked a hostel, and headed to the cinema!

I love fasty food.

 

Sammi: “This looks science-y.”

 

There’s nothing better than going to the movies in another country, and we were primed for some AIR CONDITIONING after that “So hot, so uncomfortable.” ride. Deciding what film to see proved challenging: there were so many great choices and we had no idea what they were. We tried our best to compare the options on the screen with the film posters hanging on the walls, but it was harder than pronouncing Kyrgyzstan. We eventually decided on a film, bought our tickets, and headed straight to the concession stand (because, you know, POPCORN). Wow! Wow! Wow! We encountered a whole display showing SEVEN different types of popcorn. This was like a dream come true!

 

So many good choices! If only we knew what they were.

 

A picture is worth a thousand pieces of popcorn.

 

After some taste testing and deliberation, we finally made a choice and were ushered into the tiniest cinema either of us had ever been in. The film started and we were initially excited by our choice – it was a Kyrgyz film (when else in our life will we have the chance to see a Kyrgyz film in the cinema) that was set in Bishkek and around Issyk Kul. I was initially dismayed that we had no idea what the people were saying, but Sammi reassured me that it looked like an action film and we should be able to follow along based upon the action. Unfortunately, the majority of the first 45 minutes involved characters sitting around talking. WE HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS GOING ON! We laughed until we cried. Then we got yelled at by an usher for putting our feet on the seats in front of us. Then we laughed until we cried again. Towards the end of the film we finally started to feel like we had it all figured out. In the penultimate scene the main character, an older man, was taken to the hospital after spending several hours floating around in the lake. A shot showed him looking week then panned to his heart rate monitor as it appeared to go blank. “I know what that means!” declared Sammi confidently. We both lost it when the old man stepped out of the hospital room ten seconds later…

Thoroughly perplexed by what we had just experienced, we set off from the cinema for Viva Hostel. After some sock and hair clip shopping we circled our hostel multiple times before eventually finding the front door. “Are you sure it’s here?” I asked as we walked through a rough looking industrial area full of drunk men. We were assured by the hotel staff that the area was safe and were so excited to have air conditioning that we took a nice early evening nap. Well-rested, we set off into Bishkek in the hopes of ticking off some Bingo squares by finding live music and some local fare. We were BLOWN AWAY to stumble upon streets full of open fire barbecues cooking delicious smelling skewers of chicken (called shashlik). We immediately ordered some and were transported into a world where chicken tastes better than anything we’d ever had. We bought extra for the road and couldn’t have been happier to be walking through the streets with a plastic bag full of chicken.

This is literally the best barbecue in the world.

 

Nighttime in Bishkek.

 

Our plan was to check out the live music at Metro Pub, and after running into the British boys (again!) and dodging a bloody man with no shirt on we arrived to find the pub completely empty. We decided to come back later, and made our way towards the center of town where we enjoyed some of the beautiful buildings lit up at night. We eventually found ourselves at Center Bar, where the entire 2nd floor was dedicated to karaoke! We ordered a hookah, drank some beer, and made friends with our Uzbeki neighbor. He had a deep voice and seemed to be taking the karaoke very seriously; later on he admitted that he had gotten divorced two weeks ago and was singing sad Russian ballads to drown his sorrows. Gulp. We crossed off a Bingo square by ‘Bust-ing a Move’ and then found the most amazing ice cream stand on the street. Run by an adorable couple from France, we watched in awe as our ice cream was poured, frozen, and rolled on the spot. We HAD to get some.

 

 

 

 

When we eventually made it back to Metro Pub, the place was hopping! We wandered into the back to find an extraordinary rave with a hot rasta DJ, gorgeous women dressed impeccably, a killer light show, and lots of interesting people to watch. We had a great time drinking beer and analyzing the scene in front of us; we even spent some time talking about how much fun it would be to be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Kyrgyzstan. Whoa! When we finally made our way back up front we discovered a live Russian band playing a mix of Russian and American hits. We drank local beer, took shots of vodka with some locals who felt I wasn’t dancing hard enough, and soaked in the scene. It was surreal, and we spent half an hour watching people and chatting outside before finally heading home to our air-conditioned bed.

 

 


 

We had a grand plan for the final day of our adventure, and started our morning with shashlik for breakfast. Yum. We spent a few hours in Osh Market, and had an amazing time shopping for shoes and hair clips. Our journey took us through endless stalls of fruit, vegetables, nuts, clothes, plants, bread, pastries, and just about anything else you could imagine. We ran into the British boys (again!) and really had to convince them that we weren’t stalking them. We found some furry ears that were purr-fect for exfurcising (everyone needs a pair!), drank a ten cent cup of beer, tried lots of candy, and once again threw away a half-full cup of fermented milk.

 

A rainbow of pastries!

 

Is that a wheel of bread?

 

We found another shashlik restaurant for lunch and promptly over-ordered. How could we not?!? We ate juicy, delicious chicken until we were stuffed and then bagged the rest. It ended up being a great gift for our generous hotel receptionist. We grabbed our bags, made sure the chocolate-covered goldfish were secure, and set off for the taxi stand. We returned to our favorite gas station, and this time we stuck with the Magnum. We purchased nine Kyrgyz chocolate bars (#itsallaboutthewrapper) and were finally ready to say goodbye to Kryzyrgryzstan. Unfortunately, we had to wait forever for our taxi to set off and eventually had to resort to Jamaican tactics (getting into other vehicles and threatening to leave) to get on the road. Our ride was luxurious and we were able to cross the border into Kazakhstan despite the fact that the border agent didn’t think Sammi was the person in her passport photo. We bought more ice cream and nine Kazakh chocolate bars (#itsallaboutthewrapper) just across the border, then soaked in the landscape over the final hour of our ride into Almaty.

 

Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god. Oh my god.

 

One bite in: “Let’s order two more.”

 

We finally jumped out in a suburb of Almaty where Alex (our amazing CouchSurfing friend) was with his wife and son. We met him at a massive grocery store where we loved wandering the aisles and buying canned horse meat, chocolate, frozen yogurt treats, and cookies (#youliketotryeverythingdontyou). We had a last supper of shashlik and beer, and were humbled when some drunk men celebrating a birthday invited us to their house for a feast. Alex reminded us that our flight was in eight hours and Kazakh feasts last for days, so we politely declined and instead headed to Alex’s house to meet his wife and son. We had a great time playing with his son and talking about traveling before catching our final taxi to the airport. After an incredible 10 days in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, our trip had finally come to an end.

 

“We’d like you to be first American in our home.”

 

I’ll let my final entry in my journal sum up the experience:

“This trip really has been amazing – in many ways the opposite of hard. The people have been so welcoming and friendly, the food has been good and interesting, the scenery has been beautiful, and life has been full of adventure.”

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