Sunday, March 30, 2014



The gang
(Note: I changed the font of this post to garamond in honor of a 14 year old who found away to save the America's federal government and state governments 400 million dollars a year. Check it out here.)

In Kyrgyzstan.

I admit, I was a little nervous at passport control a both borders. All of the workers in the airport in Novosibirsk were looking for my Kyrgyz visa. Which I didn’t have, because Americans don’t need on to go to Kyrgyzstan! But they asked me enough times that I was nervous that, wait, just maybe, there was something else I had to bring besides my passport.

At Russian passport control I stood for about 5 minutes while the border agent made some phone calls, which was a little nerve wracking. Then she asked me where I got my second visa from, since my migration card was out of date (I received a new visa without ever crossing the border). Eventually she let me out of the country, but will they let me back in? We shall see.

As we were landing in Bishkek, I looked out the window and saw the biggest mountain I’ve ever seen, floating in space above the clouds (fittingly, this mountain is most probably the one and only Vladimir Putin's also 14,587 feet tall!!! However, it's not as tall as Boris Yeltsin Peak (15,955 feet), also in Kyrgyzstan, and quite possibly visible across the lake from our training camp). I couldn’t see the base of the mountain, just the towering jagged peak jutting into the sky. As we hit the run way, I saw the US air force base and immediately felt like I was close to home. Even in central Asia you can find American military bases (which is somewhat of a source of resentment among Russians, but not a big one. They usually just make some sarcastic remark about the Kyrgyz being friends of the American people (Yeah, right!))

We got to Kyrgyzstan and, again, I almost panicked thinking I forgot some important document, but the border agent simply checked that my picture matched and sent me on my way without even asking a question. Ok, cool, thanks! She stamped my passport and I was in Kyrgyzstan!
When we walked out the doors of the airport a wall of warm air met me. It smelled like summer. It was brilliant outside, and the mountains to the south were still towering. We boarded a large van and began our trek to the village of Bosteri.

We exchanged some money at a money exchange, which was actually just some local’s house in the city, and were allowed to use his bathroom, which was actually just an outhouse in his backyard. Welcome to the third world?

The road to the mountains was surprisingly good. Better than the roads I had seen in Russia. Off to the right were towering mountains, and to the left slightly shorter mountains, marking the border with Kazakhstan. But when we got to the mountains things started looking more like you’d expect.

The road twisted and turned with seemingly one and a half lanes in both directions, and our marshrutka driver seemed to be enjoying himself by hitting the turns as fast as he considered possible. When someone slowed us down by driving in the middle of the road, we simply tailgated their ass until we almost rear ended them, had to slam on the brakes several times, and then eventually sped past them on a straight away.

But no one in the van seemed to mind. “Normal” is the traditional Russian response to any state of affairs, including cows walking onto the highway, and the two “coaches” sitting next to me drinking beer asking me about America seemed totally at ease.

We stopped at a café and feasted on a mega portion of Kyrgyz food (meat and potatoes, it’s a hit everywhere) for less than you could buy 10 chicken nuggets at McDonald’s. Welcome to the third world, again. A big tea kettle here costs 10 rubles (30 cents) whereas in Novosibirsk it costs 150 rubles (5 dollars). It’s silly.

After that, we continued through the mountains in the dark. The road periodically ended. They seem to have built the road in pieces and decided not to finish it. Someone said the Chinese built the whole road (which is impressive for the good parts, but why didn’t they finish it?). So the nice highway turned into a washboarded field of dirt every 10 kilometers or so. Finally we emerged on the plateau of Issyk-kul, as the now thoroughly drunk Russian trainers (not our trainers, different trainers, just sharing our van) talked with the girls in the front and everyone else seemed to try to be sleeping.

In Bosteri we divided into our apartments, and our new host showed us our new abode. He paid special attention to the make-shift water heater, which hung on the wall above the shower. “Make sure you open this and close that – an hour and a half before you want to take a shower, plug it in and turn it on – don’t drink the water, “Не надо” – For safety, turn off and unplug the heater before taking a shower.” “For safety!” Welcome to the third world. At least the toilet had a seat.
In the morning I was woken by the chirping of birds. A foreign sound after a winter in Novosibirsk. But pleasant beyond belief. Looking out the window, the natural wonderland we had traveled to finally showed itself. Big mountains rose immediately behind our apartment, marking the border with Kazakhstan still, and down the hill lay the lake, Issyk-Kyl, the second largest salt water lake in the world by volume (The Caspian Sea is first) And on the other side of the lake rose GIGANTIC mountains, the Tian Shen - stone daggers and arrowheads rising above the scattered clouds.
We started our life here, which will basically be running and eating for the next two weeks (can you ask for anything better?) The food here is delicious, and is a mix of Kyrgyz and Russian. The milk is fresh, the bread delicious, and our Russian cafeteria (also just someone’s apartment. Who needs infrastructure when you have a business plan?!)

We did a little morning shakeout (a 4km jog slower than hell) but it was our first run at altitude and I'm in atrocious shape, so I'm not complaining.

We made some friends of a few stray dogs. One I named “Sandy,” the other Sasha named “
Волкан» “Volcano.”

We got groceries for breakfast – water, apple juice, milk, a type of cream cheese, and bread (looked like hachipuri without the cheese) – 200 som (4 dollars). Breakfast for 3 for 4 dollars, and we still have some of everything except the bread!!

We made a list of the things we need to buy in order to live (somewhat) comfortably here, and are waiting for our first “training” of the day. We watched a really bad Russian/Kyrgyz/Chinese soap opera (impossible to tell, it's all in Russian anyway).

Our first training was just a walk in the sun down by the “sanatorium.” Forgive my feeble 21st century American mind, but I actually didn’t know what a sanatorium was until today. It turns out to be a relaxation base, with sport facilities, a beach, and interesting things like “eco-eggs.” It’s basically a relic from the Soviet era and seems in serious disrepair, especially the eco-eggs, which look like they're straight of a 1970s James Bond film

I’m incredibly glad to be here, but a little worried about how bad of shape I’m in. I did an 11km run yesterday with Andrey and Sasha (girl) at over 5:00 per kilometer and had a higher pulse than both of them. They were in the 140s, I was in the 150s. But it still felt easy (well, it was really slow!) But we are at 5,000 feet so it should be pretty slow. Disappointing that I was at 7,000 feet (even 9,000 feet) in the summer and felt pretty normal.

Long story short, I’m not in shape because I’ve been working too much,  undisciplined about being healthy, and haven’t been able to stay healthy.  Hopefully being here will put me on the right track, and not break me.

Today we did a run on the beach. Also painfully slow, so slow that it wasn't painful at all, but then again my heart was in the prescribed range (actually a little higher than it was supposed to be). Why didn't I prepare better for this!!

Well, patience is a virtue, right? I suppose I'll follow the plan and try not to be too aggressive with anything.

There will be more pictures, but I'm paying a dear price per megabyte here in Kyrgyzstan, so for lack of excellent photos of the pristine mountains, I leave you with a video of the only time Kyrgyzstan appeared in pop culture. Take it away, Ylvis!

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