Thursday, November 17, 2011

Son Kol

This will be the last post on our trip to Kyrgyzstan (for a little while anyway...)

M was interested in getting in touch with his nomad roots and asked his father to takes us on a trip to the heart of rural Kyrgyzstan. Son Kol is an alpine lake located over three thousand meters above sea level.

We got on the road straight after Issyk Kul, when M's dad and his wife picked us up. On our way we stopped by the home of relatives, who were far too nice and welcoming and served us a lovely lunch. I wanted to post a few pictures of what their house looked like.

the kitchen

the living room, it is typical to hang rugs on the walls for decoration (that's M's dad)

blankets stacked in the bedroom, in case guests decide to stay over night, a comfy impromptu bed on the floor can be prepared 

lunch! salad, lamb stew with potatoes and home made noodles, bread, biscuits, tea and jam

Muscat wine from Moldova! Civilization! Finally something I don't have to drink in shots! 

my nemesis: the letrine
(my eyes sting just by looking at this photo, the memory is still too fresh)

So, on our way....

After a looooong, windy, narrow and terrifying high mountain road, we arrived at this:

Which got me extremely optimistic and excited. The sun came out and the steppe is actually very beautiful. Farmers move to the mountains during the summer months in order for the cattle to graze freely.

life forms!
This was the first family we met. This woman and her son, between the two of them they look after  20 cows, 10 horses, 400 sheep and 2 dogs. All they have is each other.

our first serving of kumys, fermented mare's milk

the making of a photo

the end result (photo by M)

the cow was looking at me!

please note the vastness of this place

Then it was back in the car...

Then a storm came in... then I wasn't such a happy trooper anymore. We could not find the road to Son Kol, where we wanted to spend the night. By road I do not mean the modern (by comparison) trail depicted above, the road we were looking for was simply defined by tire marks on the grass leading to the lake.

We stopped for help at a yurt that sold gasoline, and while we were filling up, two very drunk men started harrassing us over how much to pay, and whether we were good muslims and who knows what else. The fact that I could not understand a word, and that everyone became very apprehensive and there was a lot of yelling, made me feel.... well, scared. I started to realize I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.

It was getting dark and it was raining. We left the drunkards but had to find a place to spend the night so we stopped at the next yurt. The farmers here sometimes pitch more than one yurt to accomodate travelers for a pittance. We found a family whose yurts were all filled (all two fo them) but they said they would let us crash in theirs.

People from all over the world come to this very remote place, but they did tell me I was the first Venezuelan they ever met and that I was pretty, unlike the German women :-)

They fed us a dinner of ramen noodles, potatoes and lamb. And of course, tea, bread and jam was not missing.

It was dark, wet, cold and light years away from a civilized toilet or shower, and I was overwhelmed with nerves.

inside the yurt
The photo above is the living room, dining room, bedroom and kitchen. The table was moved after dinner, and several layers of very thick bankets were laid on the floor. They made a bed for us, and another for themselves and their little girl. Then they warned us there could be mice walking around and night. We could not all fit in the yurt, so M's dad setup a comfy bed in the car for him and his wife to sleep.

morning sun coming through

the stove (dried manure i burned for fire). photo by M

overcast morning

good moooooooornin'!

sheep sleep together in a kennel overnight, but are free to graze during the day

M and a taigan puppy

A what puppy?

Taigan, is the local breed of hound dog.

taigans (photo by M)
Eventually it was time for breakfast! We brought the melon with us, but i don't know where the tomatoes and cucumbers came from. It was so refreshing to eat veggies!

The bread, jams, cream and butter were all home made.

photo by M

our host family (photo by M)
Eventually, we did make it to the lake, but it was so cold, windy and gray that I did not bother take a photo. 

After we left our new friends we had lunch at the yurt of some "other" relatives. How are we related to this people? Don't ask me, but we are! I thought I should show you a different yurt.

In this particular community, only the women and children were left behind to pack everything up and move the cattle off the mountain when the summer is over. The men left a couple of weeks earlier to prepare the stables and what not, where the animals will live for the better part of winter.

the fish came from Son Kol lake
photo by M

these gals had not bothered to build a shed and dig a hole in the ground, so guess where I had to go? (ps. lake in the distance!)

Even though I was quite cranky for some of the time, Son Kol was quite a humbling experience.

15-day old baby donkey (photo by M)

M did take so many beautiful photos, not all of them are shown here. Please visit his flickr page for a wonder....

Friday, September 30, 2011

A weekend in Issyk Kul

So next Monday is a public holiday and M and I had been planning a camping trip for months, quite literally months, only to arrive at this:

Which only means that it is probably a good time to blog and add a few more pictures from our trip to Kyrgyzstan. M and friends decided we should all go for the weekend to Issyk Kul, which is a beautiful (and huge) mountain lake in the East, and the closest thing to a beach vacation for the people of a land-locked country.


Rest stops along the way... people sell fruits, corn cobs and meat inside dough (pasties if you're British, empanadas if you're hispanic)

Lots of mountains everywhere, but as you can see, not many trees grown, only shrubs and bushes.

You can get to Issyk Kul by train from Bishkek, but it takes well over 6 hours vs. 4 in a car.
 (by the way, props to me for such an awesome moving train shot)

Entrance/Exit to the Issyk Kul National Park.

Our humble resort/apartment. It came down to $37 per night, per person and included 3 meals a day...
...Ah, watermelon and water, the basics. Yes there is a bottle of vodka at the top but it wasn't for drinking. M's sister (B) used it for disinfecting the bathroom, no joke! 

A convenience store in town where we did buy vodka for drinking.

Aha! Kumys! Fermented horse milk, sold on the sidewalk, how can you not trust that? The murky choleric looking water next to it is some other fermented-grain drink the locals seemed to enjoy, called maksym.

These were the "changing rooms" at the beach.

This was the lake, and this is what people look like when they are going to swim in it. It was gorgeous, refreshing, delicate, wonderful water to swim in. I really loved it. You cannot see in this picture but there were snowy mountains on the opposite shore.
 A little pop culture: Issyk Kul is a saline lake, not like seawater but it does have a salty tinge. The legend says it came about from the tears of a girl who forever waited for a lover who never came. Eat your heart out Justin Timberlake.

The dining room at the resort had a lot of these raised benches for people to sit on and eat off of a low-rised table. They are called "tapchan" and often seen in establishments with an outdoor eating area. Out of courtesy you must take your shoes off before hoping on.
 Meals were OK, but not amazing. What was amazing is how many people in our party were so deeply indignant about the poor quality of the food that they opted for not eating very much or at all. I think I must have been the only person who finished her full plate at every meal. In my family I was raised not to waste! M's sister on the other hand, ate very little because she did not trust the cleanliness in the kitchen. I think you're getting a pretty good idea by now that B likes things clean :-)

In the resort's defense, the quality of the food was not so terrible that was inedible, c'mon! It may have needed a little salt here, or a little less oil there, but where I'm from people don't usually leave food on their plates!

Ah yes, the drinking, eventually we got to it, or at least the others did. Like every culture, boys like to get raucous and loud. Unlike every culture, they also like to play backgammon.
The boys where taking shots of vodka and cognac, and chasing them with juice. At the beginning of the night there were not chasing at all, but towards the end they'd be drinking 4 times the amount of juice after a shot of liquor. It made me a bit nauseous to watch but it was also viciously hilarious. 

This is a good one! Ladies were going around the beach selling smoked fish. It was so salty yet so delicious! Imagine smoked salmon, but a lot firmer and a lot saltier -or- jerky but a lot softer and a lot saltier. Anyway, deliriously good, it also makes you very thirsty and goes perfectly with beer.

In this one, M pretends to be an Arab prince. Or a bollywood star, either one.

We also played bingo one night, and that is how I learned a whole bunch of numbers in Russian. You see that big pile of money in the middle (= $1.25)? I won all of that!

A spider, or "pauk", there, I just taught you some Russian.

This shot is inside the resort's game room, where they had table tennis, a PS2 (!!!) and a table of Russian billards. The billards table is significantly bigger than the standard western pool table, and in my opinion, made M look like he had been shrunk.

The end! stayed tuned for a grueling weekend in the mountains coming up next! Featuring latrines, yurts and baby donkeys!