Ko'rinishingiz yaxshi - Samarkand Uzbekistan, Uzbekistan
Samarkand Uzbekistan, Uzbekistan
Where I stayed
June 28 2013 - July 20 2013
Osh - Bishkek - Karakol - Bishkek - Ala Archa National Park - Bishkek
River going to take me, sing sweet and sleepy.
Sing me sweet and sleepy all the way back home.
Its a far gone lullaby, sung many years ago.
Mama, mama many worlds Ive come since I first left home
Goin home, goin home, by the riverside I will rest my bones,
Listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock my soul"
-Brokedown Palace Grateful Dead
Ivan and myself arranged a shared taxi to the capital city Bishkek. Along for the ride was an American couple who had riden their bikes from Bishkek around Kyrgyzstan and eventually to Osh. They were catching a ride back to the capital so they could bike up to Russia and over to Mongolia and I believe China also. We had a really nice car for the ride, and I got to sit in the front seat for the first half of the ride. This journey which took about 11 hours, was one of the most beautiful rides that I can remember taking. We drove around and thru white capped mountains and had views of glimmering blue lakes. The atmosphere was delightful and I was able to take it all in while sitting in the front. I put on some Gov't Mule and Grateful Dead and enjoyed the landscapes. Ivan took photos the whole ride, so maybe this translated to about 500 pictures and many videos. We stopped after a few hours and had a tasty Kyrgyz style lunch. Some ladies who were eating next to us, happily posed for some funny pictures, and most of them had gold teeth. Its quite common for Kyrgyz to get gold teeth put in.
We arrived in Bishkek at around 9pm, and the taxi driver called the Bishkek Guesthouse so the manager could come out and meet us. We said goodbye to the two Americans who were staying in the other building of the guesthouse. Then we followed our kind host to our apartment on the seventh floor of an old Soviet style apartment building. Ivan and I got a room with four beds and there was also a Japanese guy and a guy from The Czech Republic. We rested the rest of night, only going out to go grab some food in the 24 hour grocery store outside of the building. I decided since my plan was to obtain two visas here in Bishkek, that I would post a message on couchsurfing to see if anyone wanted to meet up and hang out in the city. A few hours after the post i received a message from a local Kyrgyz girl named Nargiza. She said that she wanted to practise speaking english with me and if I wanted to meet up tomorrow to walk around the city.
Today was Sunday, and I still had one more day before I could apply for my Kazakh visa, so I had some free time to relax, and explore Bishkek. I decided to go for a stroll down the main road called Chuy road. I walked for about 45 minutes and having to use the toilet, I spotted a Hyatt Regency on my maps. I headed to the hotel and used their 5 star bathrooms, and then helped myself to their 5 star wifi as well. I skyped with Courtney and my good friend eric for about a half hour. After that I headed back to the guesthouse and grabbed my hammock. There was a nice park just outside of my building, so I strapped my hammock up between two trees and read and napped for around 3 hours. A few people honked at me while driving by and gave me the thumbs up. I also got many stares and smiles from people walking by. After a nice and relaxing afternoon in the park, I went back to the apartment and worked out. When I was finished a new guy had arrived at the apartment. It was Alex from Canada who I had met on the train from Urumqi to Kashgar. He was only one day behind Ivan and myself and eventually caught up to us.
I had talked to Nargiza earlier in the day, and we had arranged to meet at the apartment at 6pm. She called up to the apartment from outside and I went to meet her along with Alex. Nargiza is a 24 year old girl who is very enthusiastic about learning english. She told us that she was going to Bangkok, Thailand to work at an international hotel as a receptionist. She said she really wanted to improve her english before she left in August. After talking and walking with her for a few minutes, I felt that her english was really good already. The three of us walked on Chuy road and went to a cafeteria of local cuisines. We ate some good food and talked about mostly Kyrgyz topics and we taught each other different phrases in our respective languages. Nargiza was a fast learner and was able to catch on quickly to new words. We talked about a tradition in Kyrgyzstan called bride kidnapping. This is a very strange and ridiculous tradition. It mostly happens in the countryside. A man sees a woman that he likes, and basically him and his friends goes and kidnaps her. The woman is then persuaded to marry this man. Many of these forced marriages not surprisingly end in divorce. It has been going on for many many years, and for some reason it is acceptable to do this. I asked many question to Nargiza about this, and was quite amazed by it as well. Nargiza even feels that she could potentially be kidnapped if she was vulnerable while traveling in the countryside. After about four hours of hanging out walking and talking it was time for Nargiza to grab a bus back to her apartment, where she lived with her two sisters, her aunt and her niece i believe. Alex and I strolled back to our guesthouse and called it a night.
Today on this first monday of July, my goal was to apply for my Kazakhstan visa. I got my passport photo and copy of my passport ready along with $160 and headed out. I knew which road the embassy was on, but not quite how far down it was. So i headed to that rode and grabbed a taxi. I arrived at the embassy before it opened and waited with about 10 other people. When it opened we all piled into the embassy doors. The wait wasnt to bad and I was to the front of the line in about 30 minutes. I was given a form to fill out and after I did that I returned it to the man running the show. He took my papers and handed me a paper with an address on it saying I have to go to a bank to pay for my visa. I took the paper and headed out. Instead of taking the taxis who waited outside of the embassy, I walked down the road a bit a hailed one. I figured the taxis waiting outside would probably be a lot more expensive. I took the taxi to the bank, and he said that he would wait for me while I paid for my visa fees. The driver was from Portugal, and thru broken semi spanglish we were able to communicate just enough. I paid my fees and hoppped back in the taxi. He whisked me back to the embassy and I returned my receipt to the man at the window. He said come back Thursday at 630pm. Mission achieved for the day. I walked back the 5.5 kilometers to the guesthouse.
I met Ivan and Alex back at the apartment. Today was also Canada day, and Alex was ready to celebrate. With me being half Canadian, I was more than happy to partake in the festivities. Earlier in the day Alex and Ivan went to apply for a Tajikistan visa, and before we went to the bar we had to stop at the embassy so they could pick up their visa. Amazingly, the visas for tajik are processed on the same day. I went along for the ride. The taxi driver however had no clue where the Tajik embassy was and we got lost. Alex was getting quite angry and frustrated and I saw a side of him that I hadnt seen before. He kept saying "for ***** sakes" and hitting the interior side of the cab. I could tell that the driver was feeling really bad about being lost, and I felt bad and embarrassed that Alex was acting in such a childish way. After the driver asked about 7 different people where the embassy was, he gave up and let us out. He probably would have kept trying but Alex was being so rude, that Im sure he just wanted us out of his cab. Alex and Ivan didnt even want to pay the cab the few dollars he asked for the ride. They started to walk away when we were let out, and I was left staring at the cab driver. I was just along for the ride, so it wasnt really my cab to pay for. Eventually, Alex dished out a 100 som bill to the driver, which is $2 us. We didnt know what part of town we were in and the Tajik embassy was about to close, so they decided to give up on that mission. The vibe was less than ideal, and all we wanted to do was to get Alex to a bar so he could calm down and celebrate for his country. We jumped in a mini bus and made it to Kiev st, which runs parallel to Chuy st. We ended up finding a nice outside bar to drink at. It was Alex's plan to drink a pint for every province in Canada, and he started off quite gung ho. I had a feeling that he wouldnt be able to accomplish his goal of drinking all these beers. I drank slowly, and ordered some sheeshah to smoke. At the bar we also met one of Alex's family friends that lived in Bishkek. After drinking and smoking, I was feeling relaxed, and we headed to another bar. Alex was hoping to find some Canadians there to celebrate with, and Dmitri (Alex's friend) took us to a place where he thought they might be. There were some foreigners there but no Canadians. We decided to go grab some shwarmas instead. Afterwards we went to a bar called Center Bar. Alex drank a few more beers there but never made it close to his goal. I made it as far as Ontario, and for that province I chugged a beer because it is my mother's homeland. We also met a young kid from Gainesville Florida, who when he was 15, came to Kyrgyzstan as an exchange student. He was also with a young Kyrgyz girl who had lived in Gainesville, but now lived in Belgium. I smoked some more sheeshah with them, and we talked until it was time to call it a night. I was ready to go home, but Alex was determined to keep drinking. We all just ended up going home in the end. Happy Canada Day to all my Canadian friends and family.
On Tuesday my goal was to find information about how to apply for an Uzbekistan visa. I had heard that it might be possible to get a visa without leaving your passport with them. I walked down Chuy road and found the embassy which was about 1km from the main Ala Too square. There were about 15 people standing outside the embassy gates and I wasnt sure what the process for getting inside was. I finally talked to a French lady who told me that I needed to make an appointment, which I kinda already knew before. She also told me that i needed to fill out a form online and that i needed to make a copy of every page of my passport that had a stamp or a visa on it. I guess i wasnt applying for my Uzbek visa today. No problem, I could wait until friday. After obatining all the information I needed, I headed back to the apartment. Nargiza and I had arranged to meet up to walk and talk about the city at around 2pm. We were also going to go to a couchsurfin meet up later on in the night. Alex also came with us. We walked many places in the city and saw a really nice park with a carnival. It was a nice hot walk around town. We later found the restaurant where the couchsurfing meet up was. There were many different nationalities there. A German couple, Turkish guy, Belgian guy, Russian guy, Canadian guy, American guy, Dominican woman, and 4 Kyrgyz girls. It was an intersting group, and between all of us there must have been about 12 languages spoken. Alex, Nargiza and myself had already eaten so we just drank Kampot, which is juice from dried fruits. It was really tasty after our long walk around town. After chitchatting with the group, we all headed out and walked to Center bar. At the bar I split some sheeshah with the Belgian guy named Ben. We all ended up hanging out there for about three hours. It was a nice night getting to know the couch surfers.
On Wednesday,after breakfast, Nargiza came to meet us again at our apartment. Today we went on a little adventure of out of town to see a silk road guard tower. Alex, Nargiza, and myself grabbed two mini buses and went to the city of Tokmot, which was about one hour east. We arrived at Tokmot and took a taxi to the guard tower called Barana. We climbed to the top and hung out there for about an hour taking in the pretty landscapes around us. I imagined how many people might have been murdered from a top this tower. Apparently, Ghengis Khan had spared the tower because he was impressed with it. How nice of him. We then walked for about an hour down thru the countryside while we tried to hitchhike a ride back to town. We ate some apples off the trees and saw many marijuana plants growing naturally. With no luck hitchhiking, we ended up finding a minibus that took us through the countryside and back to Tokmot. We had some nice local lunch, and grabbed another minibus back to Bishkek. After the long adventurous day, I stayed in for the night, reading and talking to Courtney.
On Thursday, I spent most of the morning and afternoon being lazy. I hung out in bed for most of the time listening to music and skyping with Courtney. Later on, I get some motivation to work out for a bit. When I was done, I met an American woman of about 65 years. She just so happened to be from Grand Rapids, Michigan. What do you know? Two Michiganders in the same apartment in Bishkek. She had worked all over the world in many remote places as a Doctor. We swapped stories of mutual places that we had visited. It was an interesting conversation, and it was nice to get an insider perspective of all the places we had both been to. After we talked it was time for me to walk to the Kazakh embassy. I walked for over an hour taking back streets and exploring a different part of Bishkek. I arrived at the embassy about an hour early. I went to grab some food while I waited. When the doors opened people started to rush towards the entrance. It seemed if they didnt hurry that they might not receive their visas. I just sat back and watched as the people hurried to be first. I have seen many situations like this in embassies, and know there is no use in stressing over being in the front. We piled into the doors of the embassy and there was probably only about 10 people in front of me. The line actually moved at lightning speed. As soon as you walked up to the window and said your name, your passport was handed to you. It only took around 2 minutes for me to get my passport back. With my passport in hand, my mission for my Kazakh visa was successful and I headed down the road. I know could go get my passport pages photocopied in order to get my Uzbek visa.
I walked into the first internet shop that I saw. It doubled as an internet/ping pong playing joint. When I walked in the energetic worker said ping pong? to me. I said no and with pointing and demonstrations, I explained to him that I needed all my pages copied that had visas and stamps on them. While he made my copies he put on some music that he thought I might like. We listened to the Thrift Shop song where they say "This is ******* Awesome" and a song by Mystikal where he kept yelling a song about big titties. When my copies were finished I thanked they man and shook his hand. I now had everything I needed for my Uzbek visa. I had already made an appointment a few day back for friday at 10am. I also had filled out the online form, and I already had a passport photo and another copy of the front page of my passport. After leaving the pong/net shop, I walked slowly back to my apartment listening to music. I settled in for the night, skyping with Courtney for a couple hours.
On Friday, my sixth day in Bishkek, I was ready to go apply for my Uzbek visa. Overnight, I noticed that my phone had lost its charge so I didnt have my maps. I said goodbye to Ivan early in the morning, who was flying to Beijing. Alex had left the night before to go on a tour while I was at the embassy. I headed to the Uzbek embassy at around 845am. I figured I could remember how to get there. I walked to where I thought it was but had trouble finding it. I ended up wandering for about 25 minutes around the area, until I finally asked the guard at the Turkish embassy where it was. He pointed me in the right direction, and I ended up arriving at 10:10am. There were already about 15 people outside, and I figured I would have to wait a good amount of time to get inside. I had an appointment so I knew it wouldnt be much of a hassle. I went and grabbed some food and then came back. I watched as people slowly went one by one in the gate. Everyone took about 15-20 minutes each that went in front of me. At around 11:15 a lady came outside and started callling off names. To my surprise I heard her say Joshua and I raised my hand. She had put me next in line. I couldnt believe it, because I was one of the last people to arrive. I got up from where I was sitting barefoot, and headed to the front by the gate. I waited for the last person to walk out and I walked in. I felt kind of bad that I was chosen to go in next, this never happens to me, and I couldnt believe my luck. I was prepared to wait at least another hour before I went inside. When I went in there was one window with a Russian girl behind it. I gave her my paperwork, she asked if I wanted a tourist visa. I said yes and she said call back next week. I asked her what day and she said Wednesday. I asked her if I had to pay and she said when I picked it up. That was that. I was in there for only about one minute. She let me keep my passport and I headed out the gate. So now I have about 5-7 days to kill before I can pick up my visa. My plan while I wait is to leave Bishkek and head to a city called Karakol. This city is about 6 hours east and it is supposed to be very nice,surrounded by mountains. The popular lake Issuk Kul is also nearby, and I think I might go hang out by the beach for a few days. When my visa is ready, I will come back to Bishkek and then head to Uzbekistan, with a short detour into eastern Kazakhstan first.
That evening I went and met up with Nargiza. We met at the first restaurant that we had went to the first time we hung out, which had all the local Kyrgyz food. We then met up with another couch surfer from England named Leo, and also a girl that was working in Bishkek from Germany. We ended up walking around for a bit and trying to find a nice place to hang out. We went to two different places that had a dress code, and Leo and myself werent allowed to go inside. We ended up at a place called Obama Bar and Grill. It had a lifesize cutout of Obama greeting you as you walked in, and a few pictures of him up on the walls. We all had a drink there and talked for awhile. I decided to head out earlier than everyone else and go back to the guesthouse for the night. I said my goodbyes and headed back.
On Saturday morning I packed up my stuff and left Bishkek Guesthouse. I said goodbye to the friendly manager and was on my way. It was a short walk to the bus station, and I quickly found a shared taxi that could take me to Karakol. There were only a mother and a daughter waiting so far at the car, so we had to wait until it filled up. I hopped in the front seat and felt lucky that I was going to get to ride up front. After about an hour the minivan filled up, but at the last second I got motioned to switch cars. I was confused, but I went along with it. I got ushered into an old Audi and put in the back seat. Ah shucks, there goes my front seat view for the ride. It was still comfortable however and I had plenty of room in the back. There was a mother and her infant son in the back seat with me, and a girl in her mid 20's occupying the front seat. The driver was friendly and welcoming. We headed off towards Lake Issy-Kol. The drive was very pleasant and the views of the lakes and the mountains were once again very nice. The drive took about 4.5 hours or so, and the driver even took me right to the door of the guesthouse I wanted to stay at. I had gotten a business card from Bishkek Guesthouse for this place in Karakol called Hutorok. It was an old wooden cottage in a nice neighborhood of the citiy that leads up to the mountains. It was a families house and they had extra rooms for guests. The mother of the house ran the guesthouse while her two young children played all day. There was a girl of about 10 and a little boy of about 3. The father seemed to work all day and I only saw him around dinner time.
The first night I stayed, I was the only guest there and I got a huge room to myself with a king size bed overlooking an overgrown garden outside with many colorful flowers. It was just what I wanted and I settled in to relax. The first night I spent first finding an internet cafe and talking to Courtney for two hours, and than reading for the rest of the night. In the morning since breakfast was included, the mother of the house woke me up at 9am and served me a tasty breakfast. After I ate, I climbed back into bed and read for the whole morning and into the afternoon. I didnt leave the cottage until about 4pm, when it was time to go to a cafe to eat shawarmas. It started raining while I was eating so I headed back to the guesthouse. I ended up reading the rest of the night only to go out to the store to grab some ramen noodles to cook for dinner. While I was eating I was given some nice watermelon and bread from the family to go along with my noodles. That day a couple from Im guessing France came to stay and I got the boot from the king size room to a normal single bed. I was a little dissapointed by this move at first, because I was really liking my huge bed, but I got over it quickly. I still had a good view of the garden in my new room.
The third day I woke at around 830am to breakfast, and afterwards crawled back into bed to finish my Clive Cussler book. The weather looked pretty good outside so I decided to wander around the city. I first had to stop at the same cafe I went to yesterday to eat and shawarma and to use their wifi. After I ate I decided to go check out a hostel called Turkestan Yurt camp. I went there to see if they had any books that i could exchange for, and just to see what it was like. There I met an Australian guy from Perth and another Australian girl from Sydeny. I talked with them about traveling for a good 2 hours. When I left I started heading up towards the mountains and went into a cool looking building that kinda looked like The Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg Russia that i had visited back in 2008. There was a church service going on and I decided to take a look. As soon as I walked in the door and old lady was motioning for me to come over to her. I wasnt sure why and I thought maybe she wanted money, or wanted me to buy something. She actually wanted me to help her lift up a container of biscuits onto a chair. I felt like I had really done a good deed for the day and the church would be very pleased with me. Anyway, I left after a few mintues of watching the russians do their praying. After that I decided to take a walk towards the mountains up a hill. The walk was really pleasant and from the top of the hill I could see views of the entire city and the lake in the background. When I got back to the guesthouse, I was served a nice dinner. The mothe of the house had asked me in the morning if I wanted her to cook dinner and I had said yes. She only spoke a few words in english so our communcation was close to nothing. We still managed to get our points across when needed. That night I started reading the second book of the Hunger Games trilogy Catching Fire.
On Tuesday morning after I ate breakfast I paid the mother for their hospitality and said goodbye to the family. It was an extremely relaxing few days spent there. Not a bad way to spend time while waiting for a visa. I walked to the cafe and skyped with Courtney before I headed to the bus station. After the 2km walk the first guy I encountered asked me if I was going to Bishkek. He had a Toyota minivan and I was the first one to arrive. He pointed me to the front seat, and this time I knew I was going to get a front seat ride back to Bishkek. It only took about 30 minutes for the van to fill up, for going back to a capital city is always the easiest. We took a Deja vu ride back to Bishkek and this time I decided to stay at a different hostel. I chose Sabyrbek guesthouse and once again the driver took me exactly where I wanted to go. Actually I had him drop me off at the square because I didnt know exactly where the guesthouse was so I didnt want the driver to have to drive around looking for it. I found it on my map and headed there. I got a bed in the dorm and settled in. Sabyrbek is actually the son of a famous Kyrgyz author named T. Sydykbekov. The guesthouse used to be the author's house as well. It was a nice old place with a big backyard with a gazebo and a yurt where a couple people seem to live. There was also a general store connected to the house, so I wouldnt have to go far to buy my essentials. At the house there are many friendly locals including the family that owns the shop, who has a young son and a teenage girl. Sabyrbek also has a daughter that is around 7 years old, who is quit fun to play with.
The only other guy in my dorm is a German guy who lives in Switzerland. He bought a minivan and drove from Europe to Kyrgyzstan. In a different room there was a swiss guy named Jonas. He was meeting up with a group of Norwegians to go hiking and skiing in some glaciers high up in the mountains in the east part of Kyrgyzstan. His group is being sponsored by Red Bull and his trip is being paid for in exchange for him taking pictures.
On Wednesday I hung around the guesthouse all day until it was time to call the Uzbek embassy. I had first called at 10am, but she told me I had to call back at 3pm. So when I called at 3 the same russian lady picked up in her trademark unfriendly manner. I told her that she had told me to call her on Wednesday to see if my visa was ready. She seemed like I was inconveniencing her and she said call back in 20 minutes. I waited my told time and called back. I told her my name and she asked for my passport number. After that she told me call back in 20 more minutes. I waited this time again and called back. I said my name again and she said my visa should be ready on friday. With this answer I was not surprised a bit. This lady however put no effort into being friendly. After the call and for the next day and a half I basically do nothing but chill at the guesthouse only to go out for some food and for some short strolls and skype with Courtney for many hours throughout the day.
Friday rolls along and its time to call the Uzbek embassy again. I knew this time to only call at 3pm. I sure didnt want to make her angry. I used Sabyrbek's phone to make the call. She answered grumpily and I said my name and she said call back in 20 mintues. Of course this didnt surprise me and I was actually expecting it. I talked to Sabyrbek for a bit and he told me that the embassy situation was actually much better now because at least they speak english now. Before it was much more difficult to communicate. So i wait another 20 mintues and I call her back. I say my name again and ask her about my visa. She says recall. I say what and she yells recall. I say recall? and she says recall recall in 30 minutes in her worst of tones. Ok so I will wait some more. In my mind for some reason I had a feeling I wasnt getting my visa today. I call back, this time I give her an extra 10 minutes. Immediately when she answers and I say my name, she says wait. She puts down the phone and comes back in a about 2 minutes. She tells me my visa is ready. I say great I will come now. She says no no. I say why not, why cant I come get me visa. She says I must come on Wednesday. I say why do I have to wait until Wednesday if my visa is ready today. (Today being friday) Annoyed she says not Monday not Tuesday but Wednesday at 10am. She then yells...you come or you dont come? I say, I come, I come, and thats the end of the phone call. So looks like I got four more days to kill until I can leave Kyrgyzstan and move on. I figure I should go do something else instead of sit around in Bishkek the whole time like I have been doing. I decide that I will go to Ala Archa National Park the next day and do some hiking for a bit.
My New Balance shoes after only wearing them 3 times decided to come apart at the passenger side of the left shoe. The wheels were already coming off and I needed to fix it before I went hiking. I went searching for a guy on the street that could possibly fix it. In a lot of countries there are guys doing this but I was unsuccessfull in finding him. I ended up buying two tubes of superglue and putting it in between the sole and top of my shoe where it had come undone. This seemed to do the trick for now, but who knows if it will hold up.
After walking around the city for a couple hours I walk by the main square and see the synchronized fountain dancing to music. After that I talk with some guys from Czech Republic for a couple hours. We talk about their history and things of this sort and about our trips.
On Saturday morning I pack up my things and load up my day bag for my trip to the park. I leave my big bag at the guesthouse. I talk to Sabyrbek during breakfast, and ask him about the marschuka to the park. A marschuka is a public transportation mini bus that most people ride on to get places in the city and around the country. Sabyrbek writes on a piece of paper for me in Kyrgyz...I am looking for the marschuka to Ala Archa and he gives me the paper so I can find the right bus. I thank him and head out. I walk 2.5km to Osh bazaar where many buses leave from. Its hot out and their are many people and buses everywhere. A different bus comes by every few seconds and Im looking for the right one. I knew which number I was looking for but it never seemed to come to where I was. I didnt know if I was in the right spot or not. I decided to show the night to a teenage boy and he showed it to his mother. I kept asking Ala Archa. They said da, which in russian means yes. I waited some more and then eventually a bus comes and I am pointed to it with them saying ala archa. I could also read on the sign of the bus that it did indeed say ala archa in cyrillic. I got on the hot and musty mini bus. There was no place to sit so I stood for awhile before I decided to sit on the floor. We rode for about 20 minutes before I got out my map on my phone to see where we were. Amazingly we were in the far north part of Bishkek and the national park was 30km south of the city. I was definitely not going in the right direction. I watched as everyone stop by stop got off of the bus until I was the last one on it. The bus had reached its termination and I was way out of the way. I asked ala archa to the driver and he pointed me onto another bus. So I got on this bus and we headed off in the opposite direction. I followed the route on my map and after another 30 minutes the driver told me to get off and said ala archa and he pointed to a spot outside. We still were in the north of the city and I was really confused. I got off and bought some bread and tried to think for a bit. This did me no good and I waited around for another bus. I saw on the sign that it said ala archa and I asked the driver and he said da. Ok maybe this one would go there. It was getting hotter and hotter and I was sweating my ass off riding on these buses. After another 20 mintues of driving down a newly tarred road I am told to get off and the driver says ala archa. When I get off a teenage girl asks if she can help me. I say yes and tell her I want to go to ala archa national park. She tells me that I am in Ala Archa village. And just like that it all makes sense. I was in a suburb of bishkek with the same name of the park. Discouraged I ask her how i get back to Osh Bazaar where i started and she points across the street at the stop. I wait at the stop in front of the hot tarred road and jump on the next bus. It takes another 30 minutes to get to the bazaar. I thankfully get off the bus. Two hours later I am back where I started. I sure didnt want to get on another bus, so I decided to just walk south out of the city and figure it out from there. I ended up walking 10km out of the city in over 90 degree hot weather. I filled my camelbak up with water and drank a lot to stay hydrated. I made it to a sign that said Ala Archa 20kms. I figured I could either keep walking for another 5-6 hours or I could try and hitchhike. I chose the latter. I started waiving down cars and luckily after only 5 minutes a car stopped for me. It was a pristine Lexus suv with a couple in maybe their late 40's. I hopped in the backseat and we introduced ourselves. They were Kyrgyz and didnt speak english. But i communicated my name and where I was from to them and told them where I was going. They took me all the way to the entrance gate of the park. I thanked them many times for their help. I then paid to get into the park and I started walking. I knew there was a hotel inside the park and thats where I was planning to stay for the night. I had thought the hotel was 7km away so I was planning on walking to it. I walked for 6km and was getting hungry so I decided to stop at a cafe along the way. I told the lady I wanted some food and asked her where the hotel was. She said you need sleep, and I said yes. She showed me to a room and first said a price to me of 200 com, which is 4 dollars. I agreed and since I was ready to stop walking this seemed like a good place to spend the night. I went to rest on the couch, and my food was served to me. It was a giant feast and I devoured it except for the fatty meat parts, which I never like to eat. The lady then said that the room was 2000 com which is 40 dollars. Quite the big jump from before, she must have just misunderstood her numbers. I told her that I would not sleep there and paid for my dinner. When I left the cafe, I looked on another map called Osmand that the German guy at the guesthouse had recommended to me. It gives you detailed points of interests on offline maps and I was able to locate the hotel on it. I still had 4kms to walk and I was already quite tired. So I decided to hitchhike to the hotel. I turned behind me and already saw a car coming. I waved it down and they stopped. Inside were two Russian girls in their late twenties or so and a little girl of 4 years old wearing a jacket from Nepal, who was the daughter of the russian girl named Olga. They even spoke good english and one of them was going to stay at the hotel. They were very friendly and we were able to talk for the duration of the ride to the hotel which only took about 10 mintues. There were two hotels at this place, one being much nicer than the other. I chose the less appealing hotel but it was perfectly fine for me. It was a room with a bed a lightbulb and an electric socket. There was no bathroom, no shower, and no running water. Just the basics. I put my stuff down and the russian girl not named Olga, unfortunately i forgot her name, asked me if I wanted to join them for dinner. I had already eaten, but since I had nothing else to do and It was interesting to talk with them, I said yes. We went downstairs to the cafe beneath the spartan hotel. We ordered Monty, which is the Kyrgyz form of chinese dumplings. I found out a little bit about the girls. They together, owned a bean bag chair making company. The biggest one in the country in fact. They showed me pics and they were quite cool looking. All i could think was that if i had one of these, Zion would chew it to bits. Also the girl without the daughter had just broken up with her boyfriend the day before, and she was coming to the mountains to relax and get away from things for a couple days. At the end of dinner the girls even paid for me. I tried to pay but they kept saying I was their guests and wouldnt accept my money. The little girl even shared her peanut m & m s with me. She was adorable and full of life.
After dinner I went wandering around the area, which was surrounded by mountains rivers and valleys. It was a really beautiful place. As I was walking back to the hotel, I saw a group of people around the picnic area. They called me over to meet them. It was a group of police officers with their girlfriends/wives. There was maybe about 8 officers or so. Im pretty sure they had just finished drinking a whole bunch of vodka. They were really interested with talking to me but they spoke only a couple words of english. They must have told me they were police about 10 times. They offered me some food and guided me to their large table. I tried to tell them I had already eaten and that I was really full. They were having none of that nonsense, they wanted to share their meal with me. So i sat down and took a few bites of the local dish. I took a shot of vodka and drank some tea as well. They all say around me watching and laughing at me. A once in a while a guy would say something like "Obama" or "lets go" and everyone would start laughing hysterically. Also every few seconds someone would say "please" and then point to my plate of food. I would just keep holding my stomach and saying Niet, which means no in russian. There were just trying to be friendly and hospitable, but it was getting a little annoying and I was ready to leave. To my delight they all stood up and did some kind of after meal gesture with their hands over their heads and faces. I mimicked this, which they like. As I was leaving one of the women gave me a huge orangish/yellowish melon to take with me. I thanked her and then we did a photo shoot with the guys. I made it back to my hotel and room and read for the rest of the night listening to some jams.
In the morning, I woke up slowly and took in the pretty surroundings outside of my hotel. I stretched in preparation for my hike to the waterfall. I ordered some breakfast at the cafe downstairs and asked the lady to cut up my melon for me. She understood me and I was treated to a most delicious breakfast. Im pretty sure the melon was canteloupe and it was so tasty. I ate half of it myself and offered some to a couple people in the cafe, but they turned down my offer. After breakfast I set out on my hike. The sign said the waterfall was 3.75km away and this seemed like a perfect walk for the day. The scenery was gorgeous. It was a decent hike and at some points I had to rest to catch my breath. At the top by the waterfall I ran into Jonas from Switzerland and his friend, who had stayed at the guesthouse with me. They told me that if i walked another couple hours, that there was a hut with beds that I could sleep the night. I was planning on staying in the same hotel I had stayed in the night before, but I was told that it was fully booked for this evening. I thought about making the climb to the hut, but the dark clouds and thunder rolling in quickly changed my mind. The temp must have changed a good ten degrees in a few mintues. I decided it was time to head back down and probably just sleep in Bishkek for the night. I really wasnt prepared for harsh conditions in the mountains and I know for sure I made the right decision. As I was walking down, I caught up to a group of four people. Two of them were a russian couple and the other two were peace core volunteers from The United States. The guy was from Cleveland and the girl was from Atlanta. I talked with them the whole way down the rainy cold and muddy mountain slip sliding our ways to the bottom. I told them I was going back to Bishkek and the girl asked me if I needed a ride. Happily, I said yes, and that couldnt have worked out any better. My plan originally was to go to the bottom by the hotel where all the cars were and to ask somebody for a ride. This made that task a whole lot easier. The group was very friendly and we all piled in the borrowed Toyota Land Cruiser. Sergei was the name of the Russian guy and he was doing a project with the peace core, and was taking the two Americans for an excursion to the park today. Instead of going all the way back to Bishkek we took a detour to a look out point overlooking the entire city of Bishkek. It was a great view and I even got a free tour out of the deal. We eventually made it back to the city and I was dropped off right at the doorstep of my guesthouse. I said goodbye to the group and they were off. It was a great adventure to the national park. I met some really good and interesting people and everyone was so kind to me. It felt great to be in the nature for a nice break from the city.
At the guesthouse I got a different bed in the same dorm, this time a top bunk, for my old bed was taken by a french cyclist, who I just spent 30 mintues talking to while writing this. He cycled from Istanbul to here, and in a few days he is flying back to Berlin to party party (his words) for a week or so. He is leaving his bike here and flying back after the party party. Than he is flying to India and staying there until the end of the year. Anyway, I was back at Sabyrbek's once again and I have another couple days to kill until i can pick up my visa. For the next 36 hours I didnt leave the gates of the guesthouse. I put up my hammock outside in the yard and read for pretty much the whole time. In between reading and swaying in the hammock, I would play with the little boy who lived next door. While I was in the hammock he would come up to me and keep repeating the words Spiderman Spiderman, because he wanted to watch some spiderman videos on youtube with my phone. I would give him my phone and he would disappear for a couple hours at a time.
At the guesthouse was also an American guy named Eddie. I talked with him for a bit. He lived four years in Iraq, and for sometime he worked for a mapping company. He had to drive around every single road in his region and survey it. He said it was extremely dangerous and there were some incidents that he would rather not speak of. Later in the afternoon on Tuesday, Ben from Belgium came back to the guesthouse, whom I had met at the couchsurfing meet up last week. We decided for dinner to go out, and along with Martin from Germany we went to the Shisha Bar. I had been recommended this place by the student from Gainesville whom I had met last week as well. It was one of the better places that I had went in Bishkek. I ordered a cheese pizza and me and Ben split some sheeshah. A little later Julian from France and Eddie joined us. We hung out at the shisha bar for a couple hours and than headed back to the guesthouse. That was the only time my lazy butt made it out of Sabyrbek's for two straight days. It sure helps having a convenience store within the grounds of a guesthouse. I got most of my food and all of my water from that shop. Courtney and I also got a lot of quality skype time in while I was "sitting in limbo" in Bishkek. Plus since I have already been in this city for almost two weeks, I felt that I had pretty much walked everyone, and seen all I wanted to see. I was showing a French lady the map of the city, and she said that I could be a guide.
Wednesday morning finally rolled around and it was time to go back to the Uzbek embassy. I got an early start and headed off at around 9am. My plan was to be the first one waiting in line so I didnt have to wait long. I was definitely the first one there and I arrived at 910am. Noone else even showed up until 945am. However when the door opened and my unfriendly friend from the embassy came outside she read off a list of names and that was to be the order of entry. To my great surprise once again I was called second. I guess I got lucky, and it definitely didnt matter that I was the first one in line for the day. When I went inside I said hello to the lady, and handed her my passport and two hundred dollar bills. They had been in my money belt and were creased. She took my passport and the money and came back and said that she couldnt except the money because it had marks on it was old. The money was actually brand new but of course it just looked old from being in my money belt. She said I had to go change it. I told her I understood after she felt like I didnt seem to understand, and I headed out. The second money exchange place I found, I some how convinced the lady to switch the two hundred dollar bills, for four fifty dollar bills. It was a success and the bills were crispy as can be. There was no way the embassy could turn down these bills. When I got back to the embassy, there where older people outside holding signs. There were also news reporters filming and them and conducting interviews. It seemed like there was a protest going on, but I couldnt read what the signs said. It was a silent and peaceful protest, and nobody really seemed to be concerned about it. My only concern was convincing the people outside in line, that I was supposed to go right back in. I went close up to the gate, and tried to explain. The english speakers of course understood, but I wasnt to sure about the locals. To my huge surprise, I heard my name called on the intercom and the door was buzzed open after just a few minutes waiting. I started to walk in but the guy beside me was confused and didnt understand why it wasnt his turn. He grabbed the gate, but luckily a local girl translated to him about my situation and he backed off. I thanked her and headed in. I handed my friend the fifties, and she gave me my uzbek visa filled passport. After twelve days of waiting I had finally received my visa. This was by far the longest I have had to wait for a visa while on the road.
I headed out of the embassy feeling relieved and I could now leave Bishkek and move on with my journey. I took some pictures of the protest so maybe I can have someone translate the signs for me down the road. I went back to the guesthouse and packed up my things. It was only now 11am, and I was going to catch a bus to Kazakhstan only about two hours away. I said goodbye to everyone at the guesthouse, and Sabyrbek said he enjoyed my company. I caught a taxi to the west bus station and found a bus that was going to Taraz, Kazakhstan. It took about two hours to fill up and around 130pm we were off. I got a nice backrow seat with a huge window to cool off with. The border proceedings went very smoothly and I crossed easily into Kazakhstan. The bus took a lot longer to get through than the people and everyone from the bus had to wait about 45 minutes on the other side to get back on the bus. I ate some food and changed some money while I waited. We rode for another couple hours or so and when we arrived in Taraz I was told to get off. I asked the bus driver for another bus to Shymkent because that was my final destination for the day. The driver pointed to a bus just behind us, and I was told to get in. Just like that i was on another bus and it only took a matter of minutes. I got into Shymkent at around 930pm. I caught a taxi to a place called Hotel Turist. After listening to a the front desk lady talk to me in russian that I didnt understand, I was handed a key to my room. Since this wasnt a hostel, I was able to get the room to myself. It was nice to have my own room again, after sleeping in the dorm for the last 6 out of 7 nights. The friendly russian cleaning ladies tidied up my room for me while I watched and than said goodbye. One part of the floor of the room looked like it had been eaten by wombats but this didnt bother me to much. I settled in and went out to grab a little dinner. I relaxed for the night in my uneven squeaky single bed while using the in room wifi.
I woke up very lazily the next morning and took my time getting out of bed. I put on some music and lit some incense to lively up the place. After chatting with Courtney and eating some breakfast I headed out to check out my first city in Kazakhstan. I went strolling until I came across a place called Mega Mall. I decided to head in and check it out. It was also quite hot out, and a little a/c wouldnt hurt either. There was a fake skating rink inside along with a cinema. I made it up to the top floor and there were some kids doing aerobics. It was funny to watch and I hung out there for a bit laughing at the kids doing silly workout moves. They were being guided by an older girl who seemed very enthusiastic in what she was doing. While I was hanging out there, a guy came up to me and asked if I was American. I asked how he knew I was American, and he said it was because of my appearance, how I was dressed and my sunglasses. We talked for a good half hour about Kazakh culture and American cultures, and the differences between the two. He told me about the three Juz's of Kazakhstan which are a sort of tribe that seperates them. He was part of the Great Juz and he had to marry a girl only from that sect. He told me that his only problem was that he really didnt like Kazakh people and he wanted to marry outside of his race. I told him he should be able to marry whom ever he chooses and not to worry about what his parents think. Its his right to be free and to make his own decisions. He understood this, but didnt want to make his parents angry with him. After we talked some more, I asked him if he knew of a good place to get some local Kazakh food. We walked out of the mall and headed about 30 minutes down the road. We ate a very popular buffet style restaurant which was very tasty. After lunch I said goodbye to my new Kazakh friend and we wished each other well. I headed back to the hotel to rest. It was around 4pm and it was quite hot outside. I ended up falling alseep for a good 3 hours. I headed out to find some dinner, worked out and than relaxed for the rest of the night, listening to the third book of The Hunger Games on audiobook via youtube.
On Friday, after eating breakfast and changing some Kazakh money into Uzbek money, I caught a taxi to the bus station. I found a bus that would take me to the border of Uzbekistan only about one and a half hours away. When we got close to the border the bus stopped underneath an overpass and told only me to get out. I was very confused at this, for I thought he was taking me along with everyone else to the border. I guess I was wrong. When I got out the driver told me to get into a taxi and he would take me to the border. With no other choice, I of course agreed to get in the taxi. We drove for about 5-7 minutes and arrived at the border. I figured he was going to take me all the way to Tashkent which was just 20kms past the border, but this was not the case. I grabbed my bags and headed thru immigration. On the Uzbek side there was a long line and people were pushing each other to move forward for no apparent reason that I could see. Just like the embassy, they would only let a certain amount of people inside the door at a time. Each time they opened the gate people would push there way closer and closer, and I must have been passed by at least ten people in the process. The people who passed me seemed confused when I was laughing in their faces and shaking my head at them for their obvious line cutting. I eventually made my way into immigration and found another line. After waiting for a bit, they guy working in my line decided to get up and leave. There was another guy in front of me and he was left hanging as well. I guess it was break time for him. So we had to merge into another line. Luckily, one young guy was nice enough to let me in front of him. The guy took my passport and after looking at it, decided to get up and leave with it. Unfortunately the people behind me now had to wait even longer. After ten minutes the guy came back and handed me my passport. I went thru and filled out two immigration forms and was welcomed to Uzbekistan in english by one of the guards.
I walked into the Uzbek side and found a taxi driver to take me to Tashkent. I paid him in American dollars, which seems to be excepted here. I also came to realize that the largest denomination of bills in this country is a 1,000 som note. The exchange rate for som to the dollar is 2,150 som equals 1 dollar. That means that the 1,000 som note equals just around 50 cents. So for example if I want to get out $100 from the atm, that means I would be given 200 1,000 som notes. Thats a whole lot of paper. It sure makes you feel like you have a lot of money. Anyway enough of this math problem, its starting to make my head hurt. I convinced the taxi driver to take me to a bus station where I could catch a bus to Samarkand. I had no intention of staying in the capital city of Tashkent. I arrived at the bus station and another taxi driver opened my door. He asked Samarkand? and I said yes. He of course tried to get me into his taxi to go all the way to Samarkand which was just under 200kms away. I told him I wanted the bus and he told me the bus was finished. I did not believe him at all and tried to walk away. He pulled on my bag as I walked off, but I broke free from his grasp. I went into the bus station and quickly found a bus heading to Samarkand. While we waitied for it to fill up, I talked to a 21 year old Uzbek girl from the Samarkand region who was studying in Tashkent. She had just finished her english exam, and spoke really good english. We talked until it was time for the bus to leave and learned about each other's culture. It was sweltering on the bus and there were no windows. I thought for sure they were going to turn on some a/c since there was no air flow. I was wrong. Luckily, I was able to get the front seat and during the ride they kept the large door open to get some air flowing. It was still baking in the bus and I sweated the whole ride. I had to use my hand held fan constantly to stay cool. I can only imagine how much hotter it must have been in the back of the bus.
We arrived in the old silk road city of Samarkand at around 730. I shared a taxi with a German couple who were also on the bus. At Bahodir Guesthouse I got a large room all to myself. I had also made it just in time for dinner, and was served up a hearty meal. The guesthouse was only a one minute walk from the main attraction in the city. Its called the Registan. Its a group of stunning blue buildings that have been around for many many centuries. I settled into the guesthouse and enjoyed the quiet of my room. It was a little hot in the room, but thankfully they provided me with a high quality fan, and combining that with my portable fan, I was able to stay cool enough for a decent nights sleep. It was peaceful and quiet in the morning and I headed down for the included breakfast. I was fed grits, yogurt, two kinds of bread, sausage, butter and cheese. Along with a pot of tea, however it was way to hot outside to drink this warm tea. My intial goal for the day was to find an atm. The only money I had left was the US dollar change that I had gotten from my Kazakh and Uzbek visas. I had spent $15 already on taxi rides, so that left me with an even $50. I had asked the guy at the guesthouse named Baron if there were any atms. He told me they were all closed on the weekend and I would have to wait until monday to get out money. I decided to go check out one of the nice hotels in town to see if they had an atm. They also told me the same thing about waiting until monday. I was only planning on staying in Samarkand until Sunday, so I would have to make the fifty dollars last or stay an extra night. At the hotel after asking about the atm, I saw that they had a swimming pool. I went and found it. There was noone else at the pool and I jumped in. It was exteremely refreshing. The sun was beating hard outside and it felt great to cool off. After hanging out at the pool and not getting kicked out, I went inside and exchanged $20 at the front desk. I received 43 1,000 som notes in return. I went back to my guesthouse and sorted out the money I would need for the rest of my stay. I would need $15 a night for my room, plus $3 for my dinner last night. I also found out the bus to Bukhara where I wanted to go next to would cost 12,000 som, or around $6. So that left me with just about $11 to spend on food and water until I get to Bukhara. Whoa more math problems, this is getting tricky. Anyway, I felt satisfied with the amount of money I would have left, and went to explore Samarkand. I walked for a good three hours in the hard sun. I saw the Registan from the outside, which you can see just fine without paying. I walked to the colorful bazaar, where there were many interesting characters. I bought a tasty peach and some really good bread that filled me up. After a long and inspiring walk, I came back to the nice hotel and sat down to write the rest of this journal entry while enjoying their wonderful air conditioning. I think I will go hop in the pool again and hang out there for a bit, unless they catch on that Im not staying here and decide to kick me out.