Thursday, September 03, 2009

In Soviet Kyrgyzstan, car drive you; in post-Soviet Kyrgyzstan, asshole in car drives you

I'm in Istanbul now, but let's finish talking about the bizarre nightmare that was Kyrgyzstan. After arriving at 3 in the morning and sleeping on the bus, I negotiated a $3 cab ride to $1.50, and then followed the Japanese to a sad-looking museum that was entirely in Kyrgyz and Russian. We rested on the floor, and then had a few meals for less than a dollar.

Kyrgyzstan was not quite the post-Soviet wasteland I imagined. Many restaurants and cafes had a vaguely mediterranean feel. The Osh bazaar had many stands of fruit, different kinds of rice and large pastries.

After the funereal museum, I found myself on top of a mountain surrounded by thousands of Kyrgyz youth dressed impeccably in black and white for some reason. "It's an hour's walk back," I said to the guy whose name I think is Takehiro (I bumped into the same Japanese everywhere on the Silk Road). He walked for a bit and then asked for directions. We crossed the road and he gestured. We were back at the hotel.

The next morning, the real bizarre side of Kyrgyzstan began. I took a shared taxi to Bishkek. A taxi split four ways would cost about $12-25, but it cost me $30. The taxi left three hours late and the driver drove with a death wish, negotiating mountain passes at well over 100 km/h on sub-standard roads. At one point, we went from 140 to 0 on account of a herd of cows blocking the road. That, along with blue-green lakes at the foot of towering snowy mountains, completely sums up the country.

I arrived in Bishkek at 9 pm last night. There were no street lights. The driver left us at the wrong address. The Swiss guy I was traveling with went into what we thought was a hostel and emerged with two guys, one of whom spoke English and some Korean (he lived there for two years, one month in Suwon). They took us to the hostel, where the owner had left a note saying he'd be back in an hour. We waited in the decrepit, dark building, illuminated once only by a chubby blonde walking around in her underwear.

We took a taxi to a different hostel, which the driver circled a dozen times before finding, thanks largely to police officers who drew a map in the sand with a stick. We got in the door just as a drunken oaf with blood on his face approached us, but I left right after to go to the airport, just as one of my former Japanese companions arrived (I stayed two days with her).

Spending the night at the Bishkek airport with a Frenchman was a good idea. Nobody else would have appreciated the absurdity of a deserted airport, and one in Kyrgyzstan of all places. I had a few $4 cups of coffee and sat around watching the airport come to life. By 3:22 am, the time I finished writing, it was business as usual in Bishkek.

No comments: