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.
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.
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.
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.
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.