Just a warning: this post is going to be quite bitchy.
I did get some decent photos:
For months now I have been looking forward to the National Horse Games Festival near Kochkor, mainly because of the opportunity to see Ulak-Tartysh, colloquially known among foreigners as “dead goat polo” – a pretty apt description. Unfortunately, while I did get to see dead goat polo, and while I did get some good photographs, the weekend was quite frustrating, and rather a disappointment.
Eight of us had planned to go to the festival together, and the idea was to leave the school after work on Friday, get a van or two taxis from the bus station to Kochkor, spend the night in Kochkor at a CBT homestay, then take the CBT bus to the festival in the morning. It kind of worked out like that. Kind of.
T and L had had a bad experience with the taxi they got a couple weekends when they went to Kochkor, so they were not looking forward to going to the bus station and negotiating for transport. They asked us if it was OK if they got the school to arrange our transport. While we knew this would be more expensive, we agreed, as we also knew it would be easier that haggling with taxi vultures in the dark. N, one of the school’s office staff, found a company which agreed to transport us for roughly 400soms/person (the cost from the bus station is usually 250-350soms/person, depending on your haggling skills and the availability of drivers to your destination), and we agreed. They called back later in the day and said that they’d made a mistake: 400soms was for seven people; it would be more expensive for eight people. Fine. We agreed. I guess at this point this company figured they’d take the foolish rich foreigners for all we were worth and called back to say that it turned out they didn’t have any vans available; they could get us 2 cars for 750soms/person. At this point we said no and figured we’d just go to the bus station and tough it out.
There is a person currently studying Russian and Kyrgyz at the school that we thoroughly dislike. He is unpleasant, rude and constantly says and does things which are inappropriate and offensive. Well, it was at the point where I’d just learned that I’d be haggling at the bus station after all (I being the best Russian speaker of our group), when this guy came up to me and informed me that he was coming with us. I blatantly told him that he couldn’t tag along, because our homestay only had 8 beds; he said this wasn’t a problem, as he had already been to CBT and booked himself a homestay for the night! When I asked *which* Kochkor homestay, he said he didn’t know, “number 27, some street” – as ours was #32 “some street” that was at least a small relief. However, at that point I was beginning to feel a bit stressed as to how I was going to negotiate taxi space for 9 people to Kochkor. Vans usually hold 8 people, and taxis usually hold 4. Taxi space for nine people was going to mean an extra car, at extra expense for everybody involved.
Luckily, at this point N came out and said she’d found someone with a 12-seater van who was willing to drive us to Kochkor for 466som/person. I admit I was relived. Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the driver of this van had never been out of Bishkek before. Not only did he not know how to handle the winding mountain roads, but he didn’t know where Kochkor was! On all my previous trips to Kochkor, it’s taken between two to three hours to get there. This guy crept along at a snail's pace, constantly stopping to ask directions (not listening to me try to give him directions, even though *I* know how to get to Kochkor), and it took us a full four and a half hours to get to Kochkor.
At this point I should back up and say that about fifteen minutes after we left the school, the Person Whom We Dislike realized that he’d left his receipt for his homestay in his apartment and didn’t know the address of where he needed to go. I told the driver that he had forgotten something important and needed to go back, but the driver refused to go back. He said that if we turned back after starting our journey, we would have bad luck on the road and simply refused to stop. Of course the Person was getting quite upset. I dialed CBT on my cell and handed it to him. CBT ended up talking to the driver and telling him the address in Kochkor where we would need to go. It turned out that he was staying at 27 Omuraliev Mambetsadyk, which was just a stone’s throw from where we were staying at 32 Omuraliev Mambetsadyk. Or at least that was the plan.
We arrived in Kochkor at 1:30am, which was much later than expected. Of course when we got to the village, the driver had to ask directions to 27 Omuraliev Mambetsadyk, and someone showed us the way to the street. There was one house on the street with lights shining and doors open, so he drove there. It turned out to be #32, where our hosts were up waiting for the 8 of us. I told the Person that his homestay was just down the street (which it was, dammit), but he refused to go there! He said he didn’t “want to wander about in the dark” and he would just stay with us. I pointed out that our homestay only had 8 beds, that they were only expecting 8 people, and that the people at *his* homestay were probably waiting up for him. He shrugged all this off, tossed his stuff on a bed (!) and then essentially demanded that our hosts make him tea, despite the late hour.
He went off to drink tea and left the rest of us fuming. Luckily one of the 8 beds was a double bed, and with T and L being a couple it ended up not being a problem, but still! Of course, in the morning, the Person said that he’d paid in advance for his homestay, so he refused to pay. Who knows whether or not he had actually paid. Our host was gracious and said that she’d simply ask CBT to give her the money – although as he hadn’t reserved a room at her place, I’m worried she won’t get it.
Anyway, we got up a little before 7am, had breakfast and made our way to the CBT office in Kochkor, where we were to catch the bus to the festival. The place was overrun with foreign tourists. I swear every foreign tourist in Kyrgyzstan was there! I generally detest spending time in large groups of tourists, so this discovery did little to improve my mood.
We loaded into several buses and were driven about an hour and a half north of Kochkor into a high-altitude jailoo known as Sarala-Saz. We approached the jailoo, and I noticed that while the place was crawling with tourists, there weren’t all that many Kyrgyz about, and my heart began to sink. It should have occurred to me. See, here in Kyrgyzstan, people have a tendency to use the word “national” in the way that I would normally use the word “traditional.” (ex: Bullfighting is the national sport of Spain. Kilts are the national costume of Scotland.) It’s not exactly incorrect, but it does leave a certain ambiguity. We had been expecting the National Horse Games Festival to be a *national* event, with people from all over the country coming to participate. (People do still play these horse games, so it could have happened…) Instead, the moniker Traditional Horse Games Festival might have been more appropriate; it was essentially a demonstration of traditional Kyrgyz horse games, put on for tourists by CBT. It was okay, but not at all what I had expected. And not worth the trouble we went through getting there. Or the fact that the Person stuck to our group like glue the whole day.
I did get some decent photos:
The Sarala-Saz jailoo where the festival was held was gorgeous, and we were lucky that the weather was as well.
The first exhibition of the day was Kurosh, traditional Kyrgyz wrestling.
Then came Oodarysh, wrestling on horseback. The goal is to knock your opponent from his horse.
Next was Tyiyn Enmey (of which I got my best shots of the day). Traditionally, men pick up a coin from the ground while on horseback at a gallop. These guys used paper.
And lastly, Ulak-tartysh, dead goat polo. It was difficult to get shots showing the goat as it was dark like the horses. That fuzzy thing hanging off the black horse is the goat.
Just as rain clouds began to make their way over the mountaintops, we boarded our bus back to Kochkor.
On our way back from Kochkor to Bishkek, K, M, and I shared a taxi for 250soms/person which took only 2 hours 15 minutes to make it from the Kochkor bus station to our apartment building. Yeah.