Party of Five

May 25, 2013

Waking up was a challenge. The rain tapping on the windowpanes scolded us to stay under the duvet and shut our eyes. Not today. It was Sjoerd’s birthday, and he was stir crazy for a hike. Who could blame him? The weather had been miserable since we arrived and it continued to be so that morning. Sjoerd rustled about and said he would join me for breakfast as I left.

The Neofit Guesthouse, where we stayed, has one distinguishing feature. The open mouthed dragon that serves as the entrance to the street side. It’s so over the top that I was too embarrassed to take a photo of it, though I regret that now. Down below, the Russian owners fully embrace the gimmick by making the dining area look like a dragon’s lair. It’s not exactly what you want when you’re trying to wake up on a dreary day. Nevertheless, the waitress (of a staff of 3) acknowledged that I was there and had the cook fire up the kitchen. While waiting, I tried to write in my journal, but found myself mesmerized by slickly produced Russian pop videos on MTV, virtually indistinguishable from American. That program ended around the time that I was finishing up and on came this most bizarre cartoon.

This is the actual cartoon that I watched (the first 8 minutes). Enjoy!

Why an obviously drug-inspired cartoon about the attempted kidnap of the Misha, the mascot of the 1980 Moscow Olympics, be played on Russian MTV in the morning baffled me only slightly less than how it didn’t give Soviet children nightmares back then (I’m assuming). Sjoerd came in about half way through and I tried to explain what I believed was happening. We spent the rest of the time rather amused at its psychedelic nature and how we were probably in the wrong state to properly enjoy such a thing.

The seven bulls of Jeti-Oghuz. Just use your imagination.

The seven bulls of Jeti-Oghuz. Just use your imagination.

After my ritual at the internet café, I met Sjoerd at Karakol Coffee to meet the three others that would be hiking that afternoon. First was Julian, the tall, young, blonde Australian taking a gap year. Then was Salima, an ethnic Tatar from Kazakhstan who was traveling with Julian. How did Julian get to have a Russian speaking travel partner? This is worth explaining. Julian was hitchhiking in Kazakhstan when he was picked up by a young Kazakh, who truly believed that the encounter was utter serendipity- so much so that took the story to the television station in Almaty. Julian is then interviewed and broadcast on the evening news. Salima was watching and as Julian put it, ‘kind of Facebook stalked me.’ Voila! A local tour guide free of charge! It’s that easy folks. Finally was Bart, a Dutchman that had driven all the way to Kazakhstan in a suspect 4×4. I know this because there were lots of stories about repairs made along the way.

Salima and Sjoerd

Salima and Sjoerd

We got into a microbus and headed to Jeti Oghuz. The name means seven bulls, which is assigned to the prominent red sandstone outcropping that looms large from the town. Blame time, erosion or the wrong viewing angle, but it’s hard to see the resemblance. Once along the dirt road that would undulate along the snowmelt fed stream, we spent the time chatting about world politics and American television programs, and soccer (alright, football). Once in a while, we would take time for pictures of the vibrant green pastures against the forested mountains, when the clouds lifted enough to do so. Sjoerd also found great amusement photographing horses copulating. It was about that time that we bumped into a group of well-heeled retired English tourists. We chatted a bit and asked if we could get a lift back to the trailhead. We were running out of time and good weather, and frankly, didn’t feel like seeing the same things on the way out. They politely said that they would love to do so, but their vehicle was already full. We observed them get into a less than half full vehicle, shrugged our shoulders and walked back out with the rain only making short, sporadic visits.

Julian and Bart wait with the rest of us for permission to walk across.

Julian and Bart wait with the rest of us for permission to walk across.

Back in the town, there wasn’t a public transportation option since it was too late in the day, so we had to convince someone to take us back to Karakol for a reasonable price. This was uniquely challenging since there were 5 of us and only sedans for hire. The best we could do was an inebriated man who thankfully got us back safely.

This bit of Americana was inviting enough for us to chose to have dinner here.

This bit of Americana was inviting enough for us to chose to have dinner here.

We all cleaned up and met to celebrate Sjoerd’s birthday at a restaurant where Salima did a proper Russian toast and we all had a jolly time drinking cheap local beer.

That would have been a fine way to celebrate a birthday, but it was also the Champions League Final between Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich. So, we were all on a mission to find a place to watch the match and drink more beer. We pestered just about every business owner that had a television without any success. The problems were that 1) the time difference meant that the match would start at midnight and most places wouldn’t be open. 2) soccer (football, if you must) isn’t that popular in Kyrgyzstan, thus awareness about this match was virtually non-existent. So, what we (Sjoerd, Bart, and I) had hoped would be a chance to drink beer with the locals became a cozy party at the flat that Salima had rented. In a sense, it was nicer than a bar because we all had our own bed to sleep in after the match finished at 2AM.

Salima doing the heavy lifting of trying to find a place to watch the match.

Salima doing the heavy lifting of trying to find a place to watch the match.

At last! Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich! Notice the yurt marking it as a Kyrgyzstani state television broadcast.

At last! Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich! Notice the yurt marking it as a Kyrgyzstani state television broadcast.

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17 thoughts on “Party of Five

  1. Mabel Kwong

    This was a very interesting travel story, thanks for sharing. HItch hiking seems to work in your favour quite a bit – you never know what, or who you’ll come across and sometimes they can be the nicest people in the world. This trip sounds like a very “loose” or unplanned day – which is what I like about spontaneous holidays. I like the plank-walking part…those logs look narrow. I assume none of you fell down into the river. It looks like a lot of fun 🙂

    Reply
  2. Willy Nilly

    Great story! Sometimes a normal day on the frontier is the stuff dreams are made of, or good sitcoms.

    Reply
    1. manyounighted Post author

      I live for the ‘banality’ of backpacking! Just getting through the day is usually an adventure! Thanks for stopping by! Glad you enjoyed it!

      Reply
  3. LaVagabonde

    That cartoon is a trip! I can imagine that it added to the surreal experience of waking up in a guesthouse in Kyrgyzstan. I really, really want to visit Kyrgyzstan. One of these days…

    Reply
    1. manyounighted Post author

      Haha! The logs aren’t as intimidating as they looked- so long as you focused on where you stepped and not the water. I’m guessing the old one was washed away in the spring melt off.

      I know that a lot of people in the Western world might pity your friend, but I am a bit envious. Of course, being a missionary is always a bit risky, but the Kyrgyz people are generally friendly and hospitable.

      Reply
      1. Holistic Wayfarer

        Huh. She was a good friend from high school but our communication’s spotty so I didn’t know the Ks are friendly. Always learn something new from you. You just HAD to know what virtually no one else in my life could tell me. =)

      2. manyounighted Post author

        Haha! I’m not sure I really told you anything revealing. Your friend may feel very differently than I since she actually lives there. It is a hard life there, for most. If she’s in Bishkek or Osh, she may find the people more distant than if she was in the mountains with the nomads. Then again, that’s generally true around the world.

      3. manyounighted Post author

        Osh is mostly ethnic Uzbek, which is a consequence of Stalin’s creative border drawing. It’s a place that could explode in ethnic violence one day because the Uzbeks and Kyrgyz distrust each other. I think your friend would have lots of interesting insight on the matter if you hear from her. I would be curious if she works with mostly Uzbeks, Kyrgyz, or both.

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