Getting to Kyrgyzstan

I've done some wandering; in Canada, in the West-Island, in life, in the world. We all have to do it in our own way.

I met a nice group of Malaysian mining engineers (please pray for all the palm trees being used for profit down there, in that beautiful, beautiful place) on my tour of Mongolia at the beginning of July. It seems like forever ago. But I remember being somewhere in the middle of the Gobi, playing a game outside of our Gers. I told my travel buddies about the places I'd been in Malaysia and how it was one of my favourite countries to travel in. It really was.
So was Kyrgyzstan.

Travel can be stressful and nerve-wrecking. For me it's really not. I might lose things. I might get tired. After carrying around my huge backpack and walking with it to new hostels I realized how I'd been missing my workouts. It's easy to fall asleep after getting lost in the middle of the night in a new city trying to find the cheapest (and cutest/friendliest) digs in town. But I realized that I'm a little different than other people when I noticed that the moments where I'm at my most calm are when I'm walking with hundreds of strangers in a new city.

Deserts and mountains are great, but take me to Tokyo. Take me to New York. Take me to China where people hustle and no one makes excuses.
Malaysia and Kyrgyzstan don't have giant metropolises-but they're pretty cosmopolitan. One of my most favourite memories in Malaysia was waiting at the bus station in Kuala Lumpur for the tram to open. Arriving in Bangkok at the crack of dawn and carrying two suitcases through the subway and to my hostel. Lots of arriving. I like arriving in new places.

After waiting at customs for about an hour to get my passport stamped I walked into the modest building that is Bishkek International Airport. Lots of SIM card stands. A few guards with huge guns. Lots of people en route to Kazakhstan (not Borat). A money exchange place where I changed 100 USD of my precious Korean teacher's salary to the local currency of som. It's pretty cheap in Kyrgyzstan. One of the taxi touts followed Jean and I around the airport, asking us if we needed a lift to the city.
More on what I did in that country in my next post. For now, here's a few teaser pics. Enjoy! And thanks for reading :)

Jean and I have the same opinion of these touts: We hate them. As solo female travellers these guys are usually, well, guys. And the more they harass the more we feel like the solo female travellers that we are: Alone, and female, in a male-dominated society. We were together so I didn't care as much this time, but when I'm just myself and my backpack, whether it be in China, in South East Asia, in Toronto, I am on guard and in pure survival mode. I walk fast and with purpose, knowing where I need to go beforehand so I don't need to ask any of these guys questions or for directions. The worst are the ones that follow you for a few blocks, "excuse me, Miss? Taxi, miss? You need to go where, Miss? You married, Miss?" It becomes a game at that point. The taxi guy and their taxi guy friends are laughing at this foreign girl, without man by her side, and they have nothing to lose. So they just keep following and keep harassing. It's all part of the game, but it's annoying. And I get stressed about it. I hate that I do.

Jean and I ducked into a little cafe in the corner of the airport and the tout finally left us. It's like there's an invisible barrier when a gal walks into a cafe. It's my safe zone. I can be myself when I'm sitting down in a new cafe, drinking local coffee and using all the information at my disposal to find where I need to go. The cafe, run by a Kyrg woman, let us stay in there for almost an hour while we ordered cold ice teas and sent messages to our hostel for directions by public transport. We worked through the budget for the week and where we wanted to go. We smiled and laughed with the kids sitting next to us, as their parents sipped cokes and tea. On the way out, Jean bought a bottle of water. "Gaz? No gaz?" the lady asked us. From that afternoon until today, I have spent many moments wondering whether the water that's about to hit my lips is carbonated or not. Lots of fizzy water in Kyrgyzstan, in Georgia, and in Europe. I used to have to take a subway and walk through a huge supermarket to get proper fizzy water when I lived in Korea. I'd make the trek. But now it's kinda lost it's charm.

We put our packs back on, passed the nice guards in the airport entrance and waited in the hot afternoon sun for marshuka (minibus) number 300 to the city. After about 20 minutes and waiting in the wrong line, the number 300 came and we ran to it rather enthusiastically. We were pretty tired at that point. We put one pack each in the back of the van and kept one with us. We hopped on the packed little marshuka and I took out my new som bills. The driver put out four fingers. 400? 4? I wasn't sure. An elderly woman told me "40" using various gestures and I paid our meagre 40 som (about 25 cents) fee for the bus. We head to the back to find a seat and a man and his son stood up to offer us their seats. We refused, they insisted. They asked us in broken English where we were from (Canada! U.S.A! Thumbs up!) and I tried thanking them in Kyrg. Then I realized they were speaking Russian so I said "strad-vu-zie". Most people can speak Russian in Kyrgyzstan, especially in the capital. At least where we went. We didn't make it to the more rural and less touristed area of the west or to the other big city of Osh. Throughout the week we got asked a few times a day, "You, Ruskie? Ruskie yes?" No. But one day, I'd like to go.

After we took off I gazed out the window to the beautiful countryside outside of Bishkek. Lots of cute little wooden houses. It looked European. We passed a few mosques along the way; a lot of them looking new, sparkly, and pretty. The man who offered us the seat offered us a few peaches and apples from the plastic bag of fruit he was carrying. We accepted them gratefully. They were juicy and delicious. The following day we'd end up at Bishkek's main outdoor market and I remember being in heaven with all the different spices, berries, bread, all the things I wasn't used to seeing while wandering my local markets in Korea. The sun was so golden and Kyrgyzstan was looking more breathtaking than I'd pictured it, when I first thought of visiting it years before. The people on the marshuka were so welcoming to us. No weird stares, only nods and acknowledgement. 

When we got off at our stop a local woman, wearing a headscarf who speak some English and Russian (you, Ruskie?!) walked us down the street so we could head in the right direction of our hostel. She wished us a good day and waved goodbye.
I was already loving the welcoming smiles of Kyrgyzstan.

Off the shores of the giant lake Izzyk-kul

Saturday performance in Karakol at the Folk Festival

Burana Tower from a distance

Horses by lake Song-kul. Second largest lake 3000 metres above sea level

Snow-peaked mountains in the distance. I love Kyrgyzstan!

Museum wanderings on my last day in Kyrgyzstan. Bishkek

Sparkly Issyk-kul by morning

Borsht. Lots of Russian food in Kyrgyzstan, especially with all the tourists near Issyk-kul. I love dill. And sour cream. And all the things.