Sunday, March 24, 2013

In which I go to Kochkor and get ridiculously sunburnt

April 29, 2008

This week is our Spring Break, and as such, most of us are going on various travels around Kyrgyzstan. I had planned to spend three days in Kochkor, wandering about, trying to find and ride Bitchy Horse. K’s friend C flew in from Germany on Thursday, and soon they, plus Young B and M, had decided to join me in Kochkor. I was the only one who spent two nights in Kochkor; B and M returned to Bishkek on Sunday afternoon, and K and C set off for Karakol on Sunday morning. I returned to Bishkek on Monday afternoon. That’s the short version. Here’s the long one:

We left for the Zapodny Avtovokzal (the western bus station) at around 9am on Saturday morning, and less than five minutes into our taxi ride, I began to feel carsick. This happens to me quite often, although very rarely does it occur so quickly and when I am sitting in the front passenger seat. By the time we got to the bus station, I was pretty convinced I was going to vomit, although I didn’t. We managed to negotiate a somewhat overpriced van to take the five of us to Kochkor, and I again snagged the front seat. Unfortunately, the driver had the worst bad breath of anyone I’d ever met, which did nothing to help my nausea. Luckily, I was somehow able to will myself into sleep and managed to keep from being violently ill. However, when we arrived in Kochkor, I was still feeling pretty ill. Unfortunately, K wasn’t doing well either, as she was in the beginning stages of a migraine. B was feeling a little carsick, too. We weren’t the healthiest bunch when we wandered into the Kochkor CBT office.

Kochkor CBT manages a store where shyrdaks – traditional Kyrgyz felt rugs – made by local women are sold. (It’s where I bought my shyrdak on my way back from Naryn.)

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M’s reason for coming to Kochkor had been to purchase a shyrdak, and he and C spent quite a bit of time in the store trying to decide on which shyrdaks to purchase. We all made purchases, actually. I bought an incredibly awesome wool-felt hat in which I look like a Mongol warrior. Or a crazy person. I need to get a photo of it.

After purchasing our various felt items, we headed for our homestay, also arranged through CBT. I *love* CBT, although I must say that their map of Kochkor leaves a bit to be desired, and we got a bit lost on our way to our homestay. Luckily, we ran across three schoolboys who seemed utterly thrilled to have to opportunity to guide us to our destination.

The day was absolutely beautiful, and we were eager to enjoy the countryside outside of the small town. After settling into our homestay and picnicking on the plethora of food we’d dragged along from Bishkek, we decided to take a walk to the river just north of town. First we found what was almost a perfect spot: a freshwater spring, bubbling up from the earth, feeding a stream which flowed north towards the river. (In fact, quite a large area of the earth seemed to be leaching freshwater.) Unfortunately, much of this area was polluted with garbage. We did find a mostly trash-free spot to sit and relax for a while before continuing our trek to the river.

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The places without trash were beautiful.

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I wish I could turn this area into a park... Or at least keep it clean.

We all got a bit muddy wandering through the mucky swamp-like ground approaching the river, but the views were definitely worth it.

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Looking south towards Kochkor

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The Chuy river north of Kochkor

As we were sitting by the river enjoying the view, we were approached by a group of boys... a couple ran away to fetch their friends, and soon we were surrounded by a group of about 10 or so boys, who were all eager to show off for us.

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Eventually we decided to head back to the homestay. This meant hiking back across the bizarrely contoured field/swamp/spring land which separates Kochkor from the river. This also meant many more opportunities for photos.

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Back in Kochkor proper, I got quite a few more photos as well:

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Ubiquitous Lenin.

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I love this shot.

That night we had dinner at our homestay (it cost 150soms, and was definitely worth it), then went to bed pretty early. The next day, after spending a good chunk of the morning taking pictures and playing with our host family’s children, K and C set off for Karakol, B and M returned to Bishkek, and I met up with Maksat, the horse-guide, and set off for the nearby village of Kara-Suu.

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The homestay family's daughter

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Kara-Suu, located just outside of Kochkor,
is the village where my horse-ride began.

Maksat remembered me, and he remembered the whole situation with J falling off her horse, switching with me, and the fact that I’d named it Bitchy Horse. What he didn’t remember was which horse was Bitchy Horse or where they’d gotten it from. So, alas, no Bitchy Horse. The horse I got wasn’t a bad horse; it was well behaved, but lazy. I could only get it to canter when we were headed for home :-) We rode for several hours – yet again the weather was perfect. We headed across farmland and up into the foothills, following a mountain stream. I didn’t take too many pictures, as horseback photography is difficult. I did get several, as shown below.

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Horse cam!

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My horse of the day

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These damn straps used to keep the blankets on the saddle bruised the hell out of my inner thighs :-(

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The views were wonderful

After returning to the homestay following my ride, I was utterly exhausted, and feeling the initial pains of a sunburn. I did as I often do, and I took a nice three hour nap to recuperate. I awoke feeling refreshed and yet in quite a lot of pain. I took a look in the mirror and saw an Annie-shaped lobster. This is probably the worst sunburn I’ve had since high school – and of course, it comes in the form of a farmer’s tan/burn. Sigh. I hurt.

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Hi, I'm Farmer-Lobster!

Despite being burnt, I figured I should spend the last few hours of daylight wandering about the town. I didn’t take too many pictures, but I did get some interesting ones of the mosque and an abandoned former gas station.

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Kochkor Mosque

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I love derelict gas stations.

That evening I realized that I’d spent the bulk of my food money on the super awesome Mongol warrior hat. I told my hosts that I wouldn’t be needing dinner that night, and planned to spend the evening reading and snacking on the cheese and chocolate which I’d brought from Bishkek. Around 9pm, the teenage daughter of the family brought me a plate of beshbarmak (a traditional Kyrgyz dish of large noodles and mutton) and said that it was a gift from the family. The next morning I was invited to have breakfast with the family, instead of alone in my room. They were all incredibly nice people, and I was quite grateful to be able to eat!

After breakfast, I made my way to the center of Kochkor, and snagged a spot in a marshrutka headed for Bishkek. It was a lovely weekend, even if I thoroughly fried my skin. I’ll be heading for Karakol with Young B, K, and SB from the American Home in Vladimir on Thursday morning for the second leg of my vacation! 

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