This is kind of how I would have written it in my journal book in the pen-and-paper days before I started a blog:
Saturday, August 3, 2013
I’m sitting in my room in the homestay I had the local Community Based Tourism (CBT) office organize for me for 400 som (US$8) with my headphones on, laughing convulsively for the 50th time to the Bill Hader interview on Bill Simmons’ podcast as he does his Lorne Michaels impersonations. The woman of the house doesn’t know I have a computer and is no doubt wondering if some psycho is in her home. She is probably speed dialing now to CBT: “No more Americans!”
I’ve had it with marshrutkas, which are old, 18-seat vans that act as public transport all over the country. They’re too small, too slow, stop too often and if I have to stand in one, I must stoop and I can’t see out the window. I’m hitchhiking as much as possible now, especially after today’s events. It’s good to know hitchhiking is a viable option. I like the mobility and options it gives me and it feels like traveling at its best. That doesn’t mean everything was great, but worthwhile.
“Hitchhiking” can also mean paying for rides, but I don’t mind. About half the time I ride for free, half the time I pay—and I always know which before I get in. I discriminate; I usually put my thumb out only for nicer cars. I figure it’s easier and less risky. There are tons of old BMWs and Mercedes here for some reason. It always cracks me up when a huge Mercedes will stop and the driver will agree to take me, say, 30km, for 25 som, which is 50 US cents. I can’t imagine a Mercedes stopping for me in Germany and the driver saying, “I’ll drive you 30 km if you give me 50 cents.”
Communication with drivers is tough, but I make do. Speaking a little Kyrgyz jazzes people up, I’ve discovered, but Russian is the lingua franca here and it’s still an official language.
I started from Karakol and headed west along the less-developed, more dramatic, southern side of Lake Issyk Kul. I quickly got a ride from a guy wearing a Clovis East High School Wrestling t-shirt, which is an hour from where my parents live in California. When we arrived I was going to take a photo of him, but first he tried to get me to pay 250 som ($5) instead of the 25 som we agreed. Jackass. I had a tense couple of moments as I thought he might try to speed off in those two seconds it takes for me to fetch my bag out of the back of his car, which is the hitchhiker’s drama every time.
The apricot festival didn’t impress me. It had a great location right on the beach in Ton, near the town of Bokonbaevo, but without any shade in the brutal heat. Plus, foreigners had to pay 500 som ($10) to attend, which is a lot of plov. Locals supposedly pay 200 som, but no one really needed to pay anything as it was open. I walked along the beach a while, got an apricot danish, and left.
As I was hitchhiking back, a French traveler was dropped off next to me by a truck. He was traveling with a badminton racket strapped to the top of his backpack and three big maps wrapped in a meter-long tube. He had just spent three years in China, he explained, and they wouldn’t let him mail the maps home. They didn’t look to be anything special, but he decided they were worth carrying home on the Silk Road. He had recently come overland from Kashgar, which is my destination. I pumped him for information incessantly while car after car stopped for us, all trying to get us to pay too much to go back to town, which amused him.
Where are all the classic Soviet-era cars? Ladas, yes, but I’ve been disappointed not to see many Moskviches, or my favorite, the Volga, a tank of a sedan. Instead, there are mostly old BMWs and Mercedes, Japanese right-hand-drive cars (how do they get delivered here?), and Kyrgyzstan is paradise for 1990’s German truckspotters.
Been gone six and a half months. I’m tired.
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