For those of you interested in Central Asia, like I am, you should take notice of what’s going on in Kyrgyzstan today. Protesters have taken to the streets and are calling for the president’s resignation. As you’ll see in the video below, police have opened fire in the main square where I took my Bishkek cartwheel photo. Neweurasia.net appears to have up to date reports.
Thanks to Jane, who used to blog from Bishkek when she taught English there, for the heads up.
Osh, Kyrgyzstan – Kashgar, China | 8 October, 2006 | $50 (overnight sleeper bus)
This would be my third time traveling between Osh and Sary Tash on this trip and this time I decided to go by bus. The first time was in a large China Aid truck after my accident and the second time was in a jeep hired in Tajikistan at night. The bus was quite expensive but I wasn’t having much luck finding enough people to get a shared taxi together. Ideally I would take a taxi during the day, sleep in Sary Tash and then leave first thing for the Chinese border so we passed over while there were taxis still waiting on the Chinese side and before the border closed for lunch at Beijing lunchtime.
One of the guys I traveled with in Tajikistan came back from Bishkek and took the bus with me. We would finally part ways in Kashgar (he was heading to Pakistan and I was aiming for Tibet) but it was nice to have someone along for the ride. We didn’t leave until after dark so we didn’t see any of the gorgeous scenery along the way. I also had to fight for my bed as they tried to place me on the back bench sleeping in-between three local men. I flat out refused. It was a strange bus ride?we were woken around midnight when the bus pulled over for a bathroom stop on the top of a high mountain pass. I followed the women to their side of the bus and tried not to fall through the ice on the ditch I was hovering over.
We were again woken up at 4am when the lights were flipped on and everyone on the bus besides me, my Australian friend and a Japanese traveler started inhaling food and chugging large bottles of coke. We looked at each other in stunned silence until I realized that they were eating their meal for the day before the sun came up?it was still Ramadan. Because of Ramadan no one needed to go to the bathroom and the bus didn’t stop during the day at all. When we got to the border the driver came around taking everyone’s passports filled with money. He got pretty mad when we refused to slip a bribe inside?we had our visas and had paid plenty for them already. The Chinese border closed as we pulled up and the entire bus ride ended up taking much longer than expected. You can read my entire story about the trip here.
Osh, Kyrgyzstan | 7 October, 2006 | $4.12
My brilliant plan to get a ride from Tajikistan to Sary Tash, Kyrgyzstan and then to hitchhike on a truck to the Chinese border didn’t quite work out. We arrived in Sary Tash at dusk and were told that the Chinese border was closed for the next 7 days during their huge October holiday. I’ve dealt with the travel problems surrounding this time in China before but I never thought they would close the border! Apparently it only close the “insignificant” borders, leaving me stranded. I continued on to Osh (Sary Tash is little more than a truck stop) and spent a week sitting in my hostel bed updating my web site and gorging myself on real food again. Despite being in a Muslim town (and Ramadan in full swing) the restaurants were crowded throughout the day and I had no trouble replenishing my strength.
For a special treat click on the thumbnails below to see the employees at the guesthouse?one of whom recently proposed to me via email in a thinly disguised effort to get a green card! Unfortunately it was not the cute one.
Nukus, Uzbekistan | 9 September, 2006 | $15
I arrived in Nukus at dusk and soon found out that most of the hotels were full of tour groups. My taxi driver kept circling the city, trying to find me a place to stay. The only reason to go to Nukus is to go to Moynaq, where the Aral Sea used to be. Its not a tourist town at all and it was least welcoming town I have ever visited. The boutique hotel was cute but for $15 I got a room in the back with no windows and an alarming amount of decoration. Try sleeping under all that pattern!
Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan | 31 August, 2006 | $3.82
After a week around Northeast Kyrgyzstan I finally got my Uzbek LOI (letter of Invitation) and spent another ten days in Bishkek trying to secure Uzbek and Tajik visas. I was in Bishkek for my birthday and it was nice to be in a place where I knew enough people to go out?I insisted on the Tex-Mex place even though I don’t often eat Tex-Mex in the U.S. The week was spent visiting my favorite bread man and running around trying to find supplies I’d run out of like blank sketching paper and long underwear for the mountains.
Song K?l Lake, Kyrgyzstan | 25 August, 2006 | $6.36
Although Song K?l is the second largest lake in Kyrgyzstan its incredibly inaccessible and only inhabited from June to September. I booked a homestay with a local herder through CBT and caught a car up from Kochkor with the couple I’d been traveling with and one additional random tourist from Portugal. There is no public transportation to the lake and our little Russian car had to stop three times to pour water over the radiator when it overheated. If I go to Kyrgystan again I’d love to take a long horse trip around this area. We paid an additional $4.58 for meals (eggs, mutton stew, rice pudding and stale bread) over our two night stay.
Kochkor, Kyrgyzstan | 23 August, 2006 | $6.36
Kyrgyzstan has a wonderful network of homestays across the country run by a community based tourism organization called, oddly enough, Kyrgyz Community Based Tourism Association (CBT). I had met a Dutch couple up at Altan Arashan that I got along with so we ended up traveling together from Karakol to Song K?l Lake, which meant a stop in a town called Kochkor. We had a lot of trouble getting to Kochkor since most of the buses travel along the Northern side of Lake Issyk Kul, the largest lake in Kyrgyzstan (113 miles long).
In the end we had to take a bus back along the Northern route, almost all the way back to Bishkek and then haggle for a private taxi to Kochkor. Valentine, the eccentric owner of the places we stayed in Karakol and Altan Arashan, told us not to pay more than 50 som for a taxi but the drivers wanted 300 each. We finally got the price down to 100 each after a long session of haggling surrounded by a huge audience. Of course, three passengers is never enough so the driver let another man into the back seat and a second man sat on his lap! The men didn’t speak and didn’t appear to know one another.
We knew there would be trouble once we got to Kochkor because our bags were locked in the trunk and we weren’t disappointed. We refused to get out of the car until he did. Finally I we got out and motioned to the trunk and he jumped back in and started to drive away with our bags. The Dutch couple quickly jumped back in and yelled at him. Finally I ran into the CBT office and got a woman to come out and reason with the guy. We eventually got our bags (exchanging money and opening the trunk at the exact same moment like a hostage situation) and the CBT office found a place for us to stay a 10 minute walk down a dusty back street.
The family kept themselves scarce but I did manage to sit with the owner and her grandson for a bit. After showing them the pictures I’d brought of my family from home (those are always a hit) the woman sat down at her sewing machine and sewed me a small square piece of cloth as a present. Its not too difficult to get to know local people when you put in a little effort.
Karakol, Kyrgyzstan | 22 August, 2006 | $8.90
After coming back from the countryside I stayed one more night in Karakol. My bunk room was taken so I was given this huge room with my own piano. The price includes a multi-course sit down dinner.
Altan Arashan, Kyrgyzstan | 20 August, 2006 | $15.27
This is one of the most beautiful places I’ve stayed. I suppose some of the beauty was in the remoteness and emptiness of the valley. I spent two nights here and probably could have stayed longer, sitting halfway up the mountain drawing and reading. Most people were keen to go hiking, and I did follow along with a few others one day, stupidly jumping from wet rock-to-rock to cross the rushing river. I was glad that we ran into at least a few locals even if they were carrying pieces of horse in a bag with them.
This small house was owned by the same man who owned the hotel back in Karakol but you’re limited to visiting during summer, before the road becomes impassable and on his schedule since his jeep is the only way to get here. The price included a two-bed room to myself and three meals. We were charged $10.18 for a spot in the 3-hour rough jeep ride each way from Karakol.
Karakol, Kyrgyzstan | 19 August, 2006 | $7
An interesting Russian man owned the large house where I slept in Karakol?a small town near the Eastern edge of Lake Issyk-Kul. Out back was a beautiful yard full of flowers and a garage heaped with old cars, motorcycles and miscellaneous metal parts and tools. Some people pitched tents in the yard to save money but I loved this little bunk room under the back stairs that felt like sleeping inside of an old ship. The owner gave me and another guest a ride to the animal market on the back of his ATV and I took him up on the opportunity to stay in his cabin out in beautiful Altan Arashan, which you’ll see tomorrow.
The $7 fee included a full dinner in the formal dining room. It seemed expensive at the time but sitting down to a real dinner for once was definitely worth the price. You can see one of my dinners below, as well as a picture of one of the few other Americans I met traveling in Central Asia at the time (this guy was pretty interesting and I met people in Uzbekistan who had heard of the trouble he got into in Kyrgyzstan just after this picture was taken).