Salt Lake and Yurt Construction
The last few days in Kyrgyzstan were spent making your way west slowly towards Bishkek. Bokonbajevo's CBT office had so far been helpful arranging adventures, so you asked for a lift along the lake via a yurt manufactory and a salty lake. In real CBT style, some bloke in a twenty year old Audi gave you a lift. You're starting to like community based travel: so laid back and easy going.
No one was home at the yurt place when you arrived, so your guide grabbed an pear off their tree and headed off again. Apparently just taking fruit is normal here; it grows everywhere anyway. You drove several kilometers towards Issyk Kul, navigating past the heavy horse-traffic along the shoreline and came to a medium-sized nondescript lake. It was separated from Issyk Kul by a sandbank and was bounded by some dirt hills behind. At the back were also some mudflats where you found some old ladies painted black with mud. They beckoned you over to get muddy too and didn't seem to mind Shu taking photos of their black boobs. People are very open and friendly here.
Playing in the mud was fun. There were several small pools with a ten centimeter layer of water and half a meter of silky smooth, pitch black mud below. It was shocking how quickly everything turned black. The idea seemed to be to paint yourself in mud, let it dry a bit and then go and float in the salt lake to wash it off again — that's what you understood from the old ladies anyway. The salty lake was cold and it made your skin tingle. It was so highly saturated that it make your skin tingle. It was hard to get your head below the surface; you just bobbed up and down at the surface in the chilly wind.
Heading back out again you passed a toll gate. Your car was luckily low enough to squeeze under the barrier which made the driver grin. Back at the yurt manufactory you met a lady who explained the yurt building process and showed you their various building blocks. She spoke Kyrgyz and your guide translated about half of what she said. Making a single yurt takes a month or two, depending on the size.
After hearing the town of Balykchy described as the most desolate town in Kyrgyzstan, you felt compelled to see if the description fit. It was once a relatively successful fishing and industrial village located at the tip of Issyk Kul on the silk road. At its peak during the Soviet era it was a transportation junction for raw material processing, and ran several fishing boats which supplied the country and its neighbours with fish. Balykchy was the unfortunate recipient of Soviet planning when the Russians tried to improve the fishing capacity by dumping bigger fish into the lake. The big fish ate the little fish, ran out of food and died leaving the lake empty. The desolution of the Soviet states in the 1990's left Balykchy a dried up junction in the road. The story is as follows — told by Shu.
Балыкчы (Balykchy) a.k.a. Fishkek
Guest post by Shu Yeung www.midflip.com
There was already much mutton made of Fishkek so when we approached it was for sure difficult to realise a town different from the one already decaying in my mind.
Every crop of reeds concealed a depressed and decrepit Russian woman, every taxi caged an angsty driver, every fence guarded by a man wanting a few сом (som, Kyrgyz currency) bribery; all of them waiting for a foreigner to release decades worth of life history in a diarrhoeal torrent that hitherto had been all knotted up in a mental stomach cramp that they were doubled over, nursing since all the fish disappeared.
No one mentioned the wind. The ungodly wind that seemed like an invisible palm pushing us out of Fishkek. "Please, go to hell - it is much more beautiful there... You're welcome" it seemed to say. But through windows of our 'nother era Audi (wound down a crack) all we could see were that the reeds indeed rustled and the taxi drivers indeed angsted. The puppetry of the wind.
Along the main road concrete walls immodestly covered towers, which beckoned punters a few soms bribery for a peek. A red light district of buildings that have seen better days.
We checked in to The Grand Hotel Tunapest - a stalwart slab of a building that crouched against the howling wind that ripped through the town that afternoon. It was dimly lit inside but seemed to have grand designs for a premium stay. It sat near a dusty sports field, amidst soviet apartment blocks and the obligatory yurt advertising lamb skewers with fat Cyrillic bubble text.
Along the main road, sidewalks were lined with chopped down poplar trees with balding crops of leaves fringing their crowns. A few locals staggered against the sideways winds. Taxis hooned down the road. This seemed to make up the bulk of Fishkek's instantaneous population.
A brief scout of an abandoned factory site revealed cow shit and an apple tree. It seems these, like tea, biscuits, sugar cubes, tomato and bread are things every Kyrgyz place cannot do without. No one seemed to think it worth the wind to charge a few soms bribery to adventurous foreigners for the amusements of an abandoned site or fishing boats.
Along the lake, reeds rustled with fat cows chewing their afternoon mouthfuls. Kyrgyz grass roots not soviet life stories.
The wind blew throughout the night. And then it stopped. In the morning the trees stood without a rustle in their leaves. People appeared in the streets. Kids went to school. The cows kept on chewing.
Whatever hangups the town had with the soviets dried out on strings sold for a few soms bribery on the outskirts of the town. For a few soms even I will tell you they are from the lake.
Bishkek, Дордой Базары
You still felt well-stuffed after the feast the night before. The waitress spoke exactly one word of english — salad — leaving Shu to order his meal by making maah maah sounds and miming slitting his throat; she giggled. The lamb skewers, strange salad and masive pile of potatoes with lamb-chunks were overwhelming.
Come Tuesday, transport from Fishkek to Bishkek was negotiated en route via the taxi driver's smartphone: he typed a number, pointed and asked ‘Bishkek?’. Two hours driving through the desert brought you to bustling Bishkek's Alpinist Hotel, where you had booked a tripple room for the remaining two (holi)days. It was a sad realisation that your Kyrgyz adventures were сом'ing to an end.
You filled the postcards you'd been hanging onto since the beginning of the holiday and tried sending them at the main Bishkek post office. This time they were selling stamps, even if said stamps didn't stick so well. A friendly schoolgirl helped you post the letters into a box (which may or may not have been a postbox). You had doubts they would arrive.
You wandered the city together and came across some kind of cultural happening at the museum. According to a random uni student who wanted to practice her English, it was a historic reenactment about the tribes of Kyrgyzstan. You headed down the road and Shu tried on some antique Soviet hats in an antique shop. Wearing a heavy military fur coat and thongs looked amusing.
After souvenir hunting, you ended up in a cafe where the coffees cost more than your dinner from the previous evening in Fishkek. City prices. You visited KFC King oF Chicken for some authentic fried chicken; it tasted really good, easily confused with the original recipe. That night Shü went to the clöb to meet some locals.
On your last day in Bishkek you decided to visit the Dordoy Bazaar: a market made of cargo shopping containers covering a good square kilometer. It had some novelty value, and the cargo containers piled three levels high looked cool, but the market was full of plastic crap. Really, who needs a meat cleaver painted with pink flowers?
Back in town you wandered through the parks and did some people watching. It was a sunny, warm afternoon and lots of people were out and about. You observed a reporter trying to set up a shop for his news report in front of a picturesque fountain. The moment everything was ready and he started rolling, the fountain turned off. His bugger that face was amusing.
The morning of departure, Meike left her shoes at the Alpinist Hotel. After many thousand kilometers hiking through Switzerland, South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zanzibar, Mozambique, Tanzania, Tasmania and now Kyrgyzstan it was finally time to retire them. You hoped the Alpinist Hotel would add them to their foyer decoration aside other historic hiking paraphernalia.