I’m back home in my bathrobe and so far my thoughts are this: I just returned from somewhere that, generally speaking, you would never really want to go, but … I’m glad I went. It’s a location on earth that still very little is known about. I was never scared to go there, I just didn’t know anything about it. There’s no information out there, because, let’s face it, very few people ever touch down in Kyrgyzstan. Anyway, for that, I’m damn lucky. My one regret is that I didn’t get to see this place in summer, because I know that’s when it really shines. Bishkek is a lovely tangle of vines and trees, and in Karakoal all the streets are lined with poplars. I’m sure the mountains are blanketed in wildflowers—the dirty snow and mud-puddles of our trip gone on the hot summer breeze or whatever …..
Me! In … Kyrgyzstan!
Anyway, it was a long crazy trip made awesome by a really good crew. Robin, Chad, Sylvain, Eric—all good people. Many stories to tell. But I’ll save it for the magazine.
Negotiating over sheeps heads at Osh Bazaar. A lovely scent accompanied this stuff.
My thoughts about international travel: maybe, just maybe, I can’t do it anymore. I can’t handle the lines, the eight hour layover wasted in Istanbul airport trying every cosmetic in the duty free store. Eight hours? That’s like an entire day! Two hours spent dealing with customs. Four passport checks, three pat downs, and two metal detector/X-ray checks to get on a plane flying into the good ol’ U.S.A. (homeland security! crikey). I don’t know … Maybe I’m just jet lagged, or maybe my time is too valuable for that.
Petroglyphs from the bronze age on Barny Rubble rocks.
City life, Kyrgyz style. Mud puddles for dayz.
A last trip to the mountain. They started the chairlift for us, stopped it when we got to the top, then re-started it again when we wanted to do another run. Two minutes later.
Kyrgyzstan was originally comprised of 40 different tribes, and even today, when they meet someone for the first time, they ask each other, “What tribe are you?” Anyway, upon arrival in Karakoal we were ushered into our abode for the next week—a squat hut with adjoining rooms heated by coal fire. The rooms smelled strongly of animal and the coal smoke was sickening. Eventually we got used to it though, which led me to wonder if I actually now smell like coal smoke and animal fur and just don’t notice. Probably. The patroness is a kindly yet overbearing Russian lady who’s not above pushing you down in front of the fire while she commandeers your bag and unpacks it for you. And you sit there with a nervous smile on your face, because interrupting was just not an option.
The Himalayas in sepia.
I discovered last night that she has been cooking all our meals in sheep’s lard, so even though she’s been giving me “vegetarian” dishes, the food’s all steeped in animal fat. Ugh. However, I did learn something pleasant. Upon finishing each meal, Azamit, our guide, performs a quick ritual—he scoops his hands out over the table and then brings them in to touch his face, then into prayer position in front of his face, before sweeping them down and away. You see, the Kyrgyz believe there is lots of happiness and good fortune on the dinner table, and so to close each meal, you scoop it in. You wash your face in the happiness. It’s nice, right?
Scrappy here lives at the ski hill and is only interested in you if you have food directly on your person.
A Russian Orthodox church built entirely of wood. We went inside and listened to the choir for a while, lovely stuff.
The crew scouted, and I just sat around and stared at the view.
These little dudes were excited about getting their photo taken. “Thank you!” they kept yelling.
A quiet walk.
A long bumpy drive from Bishkek to Karakoal along the Kazahkstan border produced the following images. It was all wind-scoured planes and jagged purple peaks. Yurts packed with pickled goods for sale on the side of the road. Mud huts under piles of hay, each with a mangy cow standing in a puddle in the yard. It was beautiful country but also barren and unforgiving. The human encampments we passed by were bleak, lots of empty buildings—unfinished piles of bricks, windows gaping open like a hollow eyes and a mouth, evidence of so much industry that collapsed along with the USSR. Every now and then, though, we’d be truly in the middle of nowhere, and we’d come across two women, crouching on their haunches on the side of the road with nothing in sight, one in a fur hat, the other in a brilliant headscarf, both staring off into the expanse. What was thir purpose there? Where was their place? I guess I’ll never know.
Lake Issy-Kol, beautiful, yes, but so polluted that eating fish from it has been forbidden for the next three years.
Sylvain, filming scenery from afar.
Cemetaries everywhere, like little cities with elaborate architecture.
Yep, tourists inside! Even our bus said so.
Those peaks are over 20Gs high.
They served up zero vegetarian dishes at this spot.
Sunset over the Dakotas.
Hi from, Bishkek, how are you? Emerged from my final flight via Istanbul like a glazed donut, scampering out into the 3 a.m. morning through the of the Kyrgyz capital. Bone-stabbingly cold. A few hours sleep, and now I’m all showered up and slightly sunburnt from the day’s activity. Let’s see … a good trip, before it can be considered great, must fulfill certain criteria. I do have hopes for this one. Tomorrow, we drive 400K to Karakoal through the Northwestern Himalayas past the second highest alpine lake in the world—its unusually high salt content making it impossible to freeze. Magnificent, they say. We’ll see about that and I’ll keep you informed. Ciao.
De-icing in Chicago.
The mighty Bosphorus, bordered by the gleaming Istanbul river-front.
And just like that, the sun dipped on another day. Two sunsets in one trip—total time traveling.
The Celestial Himalayas and a few of our little friends. Note: sheep don’t like being picked up. Even the small ones.
Festive T-bar towers, and a view out onto the rolling Kyrgyz plane, where wolves and jackals will stalk you as you wait alone at a bus stop during the dead of night (when they can’t get their claws on any tastier prey).
I’m going to Kyrgyzstan. Today. I can now spell my destination, although pronouncing it is another story. Hard “g” or soft? I go back and forth. I’ll find out soon enough.
So… I procured a Lonely Planet Central Asia at Powell’s recently and learned a few interesting things:
The national sport of Kyrgyzstan is Kok Boru—otherwise known as a polo match played with the headless carcass of a goat. No big deal, right? The game can be traced back to the country’s nomadic tribal origins. It’s all very Genghis Khan.
Also, 30 percent of married women in Kyrgyzstan entered into wedlock without their consent after a kidnapping and subsequent forced marriage. Yep, “bride-napping” was outlawed in 1991 (1991—not 1891!) but has apparently made a resurgence in popularity after the fall of the Soviet Union. Part of Kyrgyzstan gettin’ back to its roots. Anyway, there’s some interesting human rights issue at work here and hopefully it’s nothing I have to contend with personally.
Aright, that’s my flight boarding. Wish me luck!
The other day I woke up with this overwhelming feeling—nothing new or exciting has ever happened in Portland in February. It’s one big city-wide slump of the shoulders. Dreary. Bleak. Raw. Gray. Clammy. And so on and so forth. A hike near Hood River quickly becomes unfeasible due to the slippery nature of the mud pathway, and defeated, we drive slowly through town. Luckily, Oregon townships generally have a brew house on every block, so in we go to the Big Horse Brewery where we eat burgers with draft beer and the world—if only for an hour or so—takes on a more appealing tone.
Coming down off a bananas trip to Colorado—not to visit the family, but to cover a sporting event of ludicrous proportions. I did see the fam for a second, though. Ate a quick lunch in a book-store cafe where nephew Patrick procured a book about paper airplanes. Awesome. Anyway, an observation: Twittering and Web-casting, have you heard of these things? They are apparently a pretty essential part of modern journalism, but … this sort of technology makes me uncomfortable. I just want to write stuff down in a notebook and then not be able to read it later when it’s seasoned into cryptic, coffee-stained nonsense. Is that so wrong? I’m not sure if it’s cliché or not to eschew new technology, but I can’t seem to help it. Hell, though, I’ve got this thing you’re reading, so I can’t be a total caveman. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m down—but only to a certain point, you know?
I’ve been home for two days and I’m still tired. However, I did manage a jaunt up to Windell’s to skate the ‘new stuff.’ It was a little wet, but no big deal, I wasn’t in the mood to really get too raw—just down to relax into some mini-rampin’ and catch up on some Northwest living.
Little Cathy grinded right over the pyramid thingy.
Dry season, where are you?
Peter Gunn pivot, captured sniper-style.
Dusk came quickly and quietly, on little cat feet.