May 22, 2013
Today marked the first day, since I reunited with Sjoerd in Ishkashim, that we truly pursued independent paths. Sure, we were both headed to Bishkek, but I knew where he wanted to stay, so I would choose another place when I arrived. Any further meetings would be purely coincidental.
Getting out of Toktogul without bumping into Sjoerd was easy with a 7:30 departure from the hotel. I quickly found a shared taxi to Bishkek and we were on our way once the driver got paid and filled his tank. It was slow going, however. The driver was determined to get the best gas mileage for the journey and avoid a profit vaporizing speeding ticket. Once we passed the one police car that he expected, he did speed up a bit, but my ass was getting numb and the incessant chatter of a child was annoying me. I just wanted to get to Bishkek. So, I might have been a little annoyed when we stopped for ‘breakfast’ roughly halfway there. The choice couldn’t have been less appetizing with shorpa (mutton and potato soup) and bread being the only thing on the menu. I’ve had that soup before- meaning the soup that comes with a couple chunks of potato and a big piece of bone with a few of morsels of meat flagging off of it. So, I chose to stay outside of the converted postal railcar restaurant and enjoy the gorgeous scenery that you couldn’t avoid.
I was relieved to finish that journey. I had made it my personal pledge that rest of the trip would not involve any more 3+ hour car rides. This was my last 10 days of Central Asia and I was going to slow it down and savor the remaining time before going home to move myself to Colorado and find a new job when I returned home.
As far as taxi rides go, this one went pretty smoothly. We didn’t run out of fuel before the end of the trip, as happened in Dushanbe. I was dropped at a minibus/shared taxi station because the driver didn’t know the address of the hostel. Without street signs, I wasn’t sure where I was on the map. I figured I was probably in the northern half of Bishkek but not sure how far east from center we were. There was more than one station on the map, so deciding where I was came to a coin toss. Luckily, I saw the 114 bus I was supposed to take to the hostel, so I jumped on. Unsure where to get off, I asked a rather attractive female where get off for the East Bus Station. She told me that we had past it and to get off and go back the other direction. When I arrived back where I started, I decided to orient myself on the map with the help of some locals. The 114 didn’t run frequently enough for me and I was running low on local currency, so I retraced my steps to the East Bus Station- over 2 miles away. The instructions to find the hostel were inadequate, so only serendipitous encounter with an Israeli backpacker, who had the owner coming to find her, prevented me from wasting time finding it. Nomad Home is a basic dormitory style hostel with wooden bunks and a decent common shower and bathroom. It was cheap and would do for one night.
For whatever reason, I wasn’t feeling particularly well or energetic, but I needed to get out and pound some pavement if I was going to complete my errands and leave Bishkek tomorrow morning. The primary objective was to get a map so I could go hiking in the area of Karakol. Apart from the dizzying attempt at summiting in Alichur and the epic day hike in Arslanbob, so many mountain adventures had gone begging because maps are either non-existent or hard to find. As it was, when I arrived at the CBT, not all maps had English versions available. Yes, I can read Cyrillic, but I don’t want to depend on that ability when I am tired and trying to navigate. Fortunately, there was an English version of the map for the area around Karakol, but I would have to do without the one for Song-Köl, which was a disappointment. The good news is that that well-spoken woman told me that there should be some nomadic families in the area of Song-Köl despite the recent snows in the highlands. I left thankful that I had a map and committed to use it for some hikes in the coming days.
With that sorted out, I had the rest of the day to explore the city. My reward for doing so on limited energy and questionable health was a stop by the extremely popular, large, and well-run Café Faisa. I wish I had been able to appreciate the food more through my rapidly developing sinusitis, but it was still a good meal. I decided that I may have overfed the cold, so I walked half an hour back to the hostel. There, I could now enjoy a lengthy shower and shave before fraternizing with my fellow guests. The most memorable were the two male university students from Germany and the Norwegian sailor.
Backpackers are a strange breed, and I unashamedly associate myself with their ranks. However, this Norwegian was not only a strange personality, but the most impractical backpacker I have met in my years. What possesses a man to buy a case of probiotic drink and a large, gaudy, crystalline bottle of cologne at the duty-free shop at the beginning of a journey? In addition, he also had brought the thickest damn Kyrgyz sweater you’ve ever seen for warmth. I will say that he a clue that perhaps he hadn’t made the best decisions to begin his journey, as he was giving away probiotic drinks to anyone who wanted. I declined primarily because I was so full from dinner, but there was part of me that wanted the giveaway to continue as long as possible for my entertainment. That’s mean. I know, but this guy was over 30 years old and should know better.
As for the German buddies, they looked like they had been engineered in a Third Reich laboratory. They were athletic, painfully good looking, confident, and keenly aware of it. They were on a two-week tour of Central Asia and planned to do the Pamir Highway through Tajikistan, into Uzbekistan and out to Khiva before returning to Bishkek. It was getting late for my increasingly achy body, but I shared my experiences and knowledge with them, adding the caveat that will be very fortunate to accomplish such an ambitious itinerary. My parting words of wisdom before curling up were to skip Tajikistan and just see Uzbekistan.