Tales from Kyrgyzstan Part 1

 

As I have already mentioned in my article Love on the net 1, I went to Kyrgyzstan to meet Marina, a lady I had been writing to through the Internet.

As I had been paid a little compensation money for my accident I decided to treat myself and bought my return ticket to Bishkek business class. The flight I was taking was through Malaysian airlines as was via Amsterdam, where I would stop for a few days on my return and Moscow.

The flight to Amsterdam was wonderful and I wish I could always fly business class but alas that was probably my one and only time. From Amsterdam to Moscow I flew KLM and other than the curtain dividing the sections between business and economy I could see no difference but as it was just a short flight it didn’t really matter.

From Moscow to Bishkek I flew the Russian state airline Aeroflot and wasn’t that an eye opener. Only the week before I left Australia an Aeroflot TU154 had crashed in Western Russia killing all on board and here was Hugh about to board the same type of aircraft. I entered into the business class section to find threadbare carpets and chipped and broken seat tray tables and remember wondering to myself if the maintenance on the rest of the aircraft was the same and if this was business class what did the economy section look like. Business class was actually blocked off from the rest of the plane by a bulkhead and door, so I never even got a glance of what was back there.

In the business class section there were only sixteen seats with five unused, two with what looked like paying passengers and the rest filled with Aeroflot flight crew. The meal served during the flight was pretty poor too, a cold meal consisting of I can’t remember what but I do remember not eating much of it. One thing I can say about the TU154, is that it flies faster and higher than any other commercial jet I have been on. According to flight details on the screen we were flying at some 1,100 kph at 15,000 m. Anyway other than the things I’ve mentioned, the flight was quite uneventful and I arrived in Bishkek in the afternoon on June 16.

On arrival I was approached by someone offering me assistance with my Customs declaration form charging me US$10 which I later found out was just a blatant rip-off but never mind, these things happen when you don’t know better. Marina met me at the airport and we went by taxi into Bishkek proper.

My first impressions were of an ugly, grubby looking place comprising of concrete buildings most in need of repair and badly pot-holed roads. The cars on the road seemed to comprise of old Soviet era vehicles mixed with later model European and Japanese brands. Up and down the sides of the road were numerous billboards, mostly advertising cigarettes, something I hadn’t seen for years, since all tobacco advertising was banned in Australia.

This scene contrasted significantly with the people I saw who on the main part looked well dressed with many people socialising and chatting in Parks and public spaces. The streets were lined with street vendor stalls, selling everything from food and drink through to pirate CD’s and computer software. It was almost like going into a time warp as if it wasn’t for the more modern cars; it could have been a scene form 30 or more years ago. There seemed to be a great divide between the have’s and have not’s, with elderly poor people begging in the street and new BMW’s and Mercedes cars driving past on the road.

On arriving at Marina’s apartment, if you could call it that, I couldn’t help but admire the view, there in the distance snow capped mountains. Marina’s apartment, on the fifth floor of a Soviet era concrete apartment block, would be called a flat back in Oz but having cost her all of US$3000 to buy was pretty good I guess. It comprised of a single bedroom, a living room, kitchen and bathroom/toilet. Water was piped into the flat as either cold potable water or hot water. The hot water came from one of the local power supply companies and was piped all around the town, however both supplies were rather erratic.

Later that afternoon Marina took me to one of the local food markets where we bought some food supplies. Everything was on open display from the usual fruit and vegetables to the meat. There were flies everywhere and the sights, sounds and colours were almost an assault on the senses of someone used to the ways of so-called Western civilization.

To start with I found the food unappetising being predominately boiled or fried but there were some dishes I took to quite quickly, two of which were soups, the first a Russian traditional soup Borscht, the other a soup served cold called Okroshka, made with sour milk, potatoes, eggs, smoked sausage and a number of other things.

One morning I felt like a Western style breakfast, so I took Marina to the Bishkek Hyatt Regency, the food was great but Marina felt uncomfortable. It was for a couple of reasons, firstly because of the expense and secondly the majority of local girls eating there with Westerners were local prostitutes.

That evening Marina took me to the local theatre to watch a Russian play called (roughly translated) ‘At Another’s Candles’ a one act play with just two female characters. Although I couldn’t understand the dialog, the acting was superb and the emotions portrayed made it most enjoyable. The basic plot revolved around one of the ladies who had been looking after the others home inviting her boyfriend over; he had then beaten her up and stole everything in the house of value. The play opened with the girl discovering the boyfriend and valuables gone and the owner returning. The play then consists of the interaction between the two women over the events. A detraction from my enjoyment was that there was no form of air-conditioning in the theatre and it was pretty hot in there.

The following day a group of us including Marina’s twin sons and a friend hired a local car and driver to take us to the Ala-Archa National Park about one hour’s drive out from Bishkek. An interesting day to say the least, with me getting sunburnt while videoing the snow capped mountains and glacial rivers.

When we arrived at the main entrance to the Park we were stopped at the gate by a couple of armed militia carrying their AK47’s. They told us that the park was closed for the day as there were military exercises going on and it was too dangerous. Leaving the main gate, we walked down to the bank of the glacial river and followed the river up a short way into the park where we stopped, had a picnic and the other sort of stuff you do on a day like that.

About 3.00 p.m. that afternoon we left our spot and instead of walking back down the riverbank the way we came, we decided to walk back via the road through the park. About two hundred metres down that road, we found the true reason why the park was closed that day.

There parked under the shade of a tree, was a Mercedes limousine with Kyrgyzstan flags attached to the front and a group of men and some women sitting around drinking Vodka. Amongst this group was non other than the President of Kyrgyzstan himself. It seems that park was closed for his private party. Although it was quite obvious we were walking past them, we made a conscious effort not to attract too much attention by not looking in their direction.

When we finally got back to the main gate, the same two militia guys were still there. They stopped us and asked us, if we had walked into the park, when Marina said yes, they told us that we would have to give them something before we could go. When asked what they would want, the answer was that some food would be good. It seems that the same two guys had been on duty at the gate since early morning and if it hadn’t been for someone else filling an old coke bottle from the river they would have had nothing to drink and nothing to eat since arriving. Well, we had some piroski left from our picnic and Marina gave them to the guards, who smiled broadly with many thanks and let us pass on our way.

The next day we were to head off to her parents place at Balachy on Lake Issyk-kul.

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