I have been asked many times about what Kyrgyzstan is or where it is. Why are you going there? These kinds of questions were coming from my friends and family. The idea came from two girls that have known at the globtroter.pl. I checked a lot of information about this country in the Internet and I have seen a lot of pictures. I did not have a choice I had to go. Kyrgyzstan has a lot of advantages: Polish people do not need a visa, the flights were at affordable prices, lakes, hot springs and a lot of mountains (90% of the country is located 1500 metres above the sea level).
As a result there were three of us. Meanwhile Piotrek a friend of my friends joined us. In total there were 4 of travellers.
Bożena and Karolina lived in Poland; we lived in England so we had separate flights. The girls took off from Prague though Moscow to Bishkek. We had flight from the Birmingham airport to Amsterdam and then to Istanbul ( KLM and AtlasGlobal ). The price of the ticket in both cases was about 1500 zlotys.
We started the journey at night 1st May from the Turkish airport ‘Ataturk’. We have landed in the Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek 2nd May. The girls were there one day before us. We received information from them what is the best way to get to the city centre and how to find it.
It all started in an obtrusive way. After landing about 5 a.m. we were waiting in a passport control queue more than an hour. We collected our luggage and the taxi driver grabbed us straight away. He wanted to receive 1000 som/person but we convinced him and we paid only 400som/person (20 zlotys). The girls paid 500 som for the taxi so there was no point to bargain over the price as the local people should earn something as well.
At the airport we were going to buy the Sim card and change our money to the local currency. ‘Very helpful’ taxi driver said that he will give it to us for free and take us to the currency exchange bureau. When you are tired you cannot control what are you talking about and you do not think rationally. We have been given the card but it was ‘Micro’ and we needed ‘Nano’ one. We could not even charge it. The currency exchange bureau was there but the rate was slightly similar as the one at the airport so we could have changed it there. Because of our mistake we had to walk in the rain. Sneaky driver took us to the car.
Two other passengers were already sitting there. Seeing that we were entering the car they got angry a bit. They thought that they will be going on their own. They screamed on the taxi driver, took their luggage and went out. We were happy and we just sat down. The driver under the pretext that he needs to give his colleague some money went back to the airport. In a minute later we saw him in a companion of two, new passengers. Luckily, they reacted the same as the previous ones. So, he disappeared again. We knew that we will be waiting till he finally finds another two people to the taxi. Finally he brought zn American guy and together in Toyota with the roaring alarm turned on we started the ride. The time of the ride was about 40 minutes.
In search of the girls.
We decided to meet the girls at the Ibramovska Street next to the Comfort Aparthotel. It was located in the 9th floor building where the reception is on the 8th floor. We went there in a taxi that heydays has passed long time ago (luckily it did not disappointed us from the beginning).
The reception was barred and after a while we were welcomed by a Lady. We asked for two Polish girls. She did not know even one English word and we did not know any Russian ones. It started to be interesting. Let’s say the conversation lasted for a few minutes. We were explained that there were no Polish girls at the hostel. We asked if it was possible to book a room for a few hours as the shower were required :). It was possible to have a room for 2 hours for 500 som paid in advance. We agreed for that but we did not have enough changed currency. The Lady did not agree to accept the dollars that we got so we had to find the currency exchange bureau. We left our rucksacks and we went in search for it.
In search of the currency exchange bureau
About 8 o’clock in the morning everything was yet closed, there were no cash machines visible, it was also raining. We have found the light at the end of the tunnel. There was a shop so we could have bought a beer for us: P The shop assistance was very kind. She were asking using a mix of English and Russian languages where are we from, how long are we staying etc.
When the bottles were emptied we have found the opened the currency exchange bureau. It was very nice as we could pay for the room, form the other hand we did not have any contact with the girls. Our English sim cards were not working and I have not received any answer to the Polish one.
We came back to the 8th floor and during we were paying for the room the next door opened. Guess who could we see? Our female companions from Poland. It was the first time that we saw each other live. We introduced ourselves and explained each other our experiences of being in Kyrgyzstan. We have been explained that they paid 400 som from the airport but for two person. A little confusion :).
In a search of the gas
We cleaned ourselves up and we met at the girls’ room to talk about the plan of today’s journey. First important thing was to buy the gas for the camping stove. Not to waste our time together with Piotrek we went by the taxi to the shop ‘Red Fox ‘on the S Bayik-Baatyr 65 treet (the address was found on the shop website and Lonely Planet ). There was a message left on the shops’ door ‘The warehouse was moved to the Ibramovska Street 😛 the same as we were staying (being more precise it was Abdykerim Sydykov St next to Ibramovska). We went by the taxi to this address. We bought the gas without any more inconveniences. After coming back we left smaller rucksack at the hostel’s reception and we took the bigger ones with us.
It was still raining and we could not wait. By the share taxi to the western bus station. The price per one person was 10 som. So called ‘marshrutki’ are usually the buses traveling at the same routes and they stop when you require.
When the route is long than usual the driver waits till the bus is full of people. The local jugglers and the drivers were bothering us and even when tell them ‘No’ they stop. I like it as always it was very hard to convince people who were trying to sell you something in other countries.
We found the point from where the buses go to the Karakol (Bishkek – Red Bridge; the price was 150 som per person, the time was 3 hours). We were ones of the first passengers so we had to wait till the bus will be full. I went to the toile yet and I also bought camsa (very tasty meat dumplings), asked for the Sim card in a few shops and bought some potatoes. Why potatoes? The Lady from the grocery looked at me with the amazement. I came from Suwalszczyzna the potatoes’ region. For a while baked potatoes were my dream and I have been thinking about eating them for a while. We were going to sleep in the tents at the Konorchok Canyon so it would have been great opportunity that could have been wasted.
The canyon is situated on the route from Bishkek to Karakol. The driver left us on the Red Bridge in the middle of nowhere :). There were few men selling greens. One of them came to us and started talking. He was wondering where were we from, for how long we were staying, if we like the country etc. We have been given some branches of these green staff and instructions how we should eat it. Supposedly it was healthy. We said goodbye and we started walking at the shown direction.
The route that we were walking was along the river bed. There were some small obstacles but we managed to go through them. Picaresque views were visible for 2 hours of the march. The canyon itself is very very very beautiful. It reminded me a bit the Great Canyon in Colorado (seen only on the photographs). The dinning at the open air, Georgian’s wine, extraordinary views – it was like a fairy-tale.
We were planning to stay here for a night but the weather was going to be bad. We still had some time to come back so we did. If the rain started raining we would have been stacked there for nobody knows how long. The way back was quite nice and faster. We were walking downhill and the gravity was on our side
On our way back we decided to return the favour to the man who gave some greens. He was still standing there after 5 hours. To show how grateful we were we gave few chocolate bars to him. Except potatoes we did not have anything better with us. The plant he had gave us earlier tasted similar as rhubarb. This plant was little sour, a bit fibrous but more crunchy than rhubarb. It was eaten stock and barrel. It was fresh organic food in the end :).
We stopped at the side of the road and we started stopping the cars. The buses were full and its’ drivers were apologetically waving their hands and going further. It was good that the normal cars were going there as well. The family with children has stopped. The girls went first. We waited a while. Finally after an hour 2 boys stopped. They were going to Balykchy (the meeting point was Czalpon-Ata ). They gave a s a lift for 100 som per person. It was about 7 o’clock. We ate something hot first. At the local eatery w ordered laghman – the national dish, very tasty and what the most important with meat.
We were planning to get to the place where the girls were staying this evening but hitchhiking was not successful. The taxi was not cheap (even in comparison with our salaries). It was getting dark. There was no point of losing our energy. Piotrek was convincing me to sleep in the mosque. I agreed. We went there to ask if it would be possible. Unfortunately they refused. There was nothing else like sleeping in a tent. It is not true that in all Muslim countries wanderer without any problems can spend a night at the temple – at least not in Kyrgyzstan.
We did not have a choice so we slept in our tents. The most reasonable place to stay was the yard behind the petrol station. The ground was as hard as a stone and we were not able to embed the tent pegs into it. We tied the flysheet to the nearest bushes and rocks. It was good that I did it. During the night there was a storm, the flysheet was moving and making noises but at least we were not wet. In the morning I asked Piotrek how he slept during the storm. His answer was priceless: What storm? Good, at least one of us was sleeping well. I spent the night listening to the thunders.
At 6:30 it was raining still but it was time to go. We packed our wet tent and we went towards the bus station. The first bus was at 8. The magazines and canteens were still closed. We stumbled across the shared taxi. After 7 a.m. we were on our way ( Balykchy – Czalpo-Ata 1.5h, price 200 som/person ). Piotrek was that hungry so he ate pink peanuts from Istanbul :).
In Czalpo-Ata the weather was not better. On our way to meet the girls we got into the opened shop with mobiles where we bought the Sim cards. Finally we had connection with the world. Next we went to the hostel that we read about Ala Too, where the girl should be. After few km we got to our destination that turned to be closed. We had to go back to the city centre in the rain. After we had informed them that we cannot find them we received a message backs saying: hey, let’s meet next to the main square nearby the sushi restaurant. Nothing easier, seriously, especially that the restaurant was not in our guidebook and local people did not know where is it as well.
In general we were looking for each other till 12 o’clock in the city that has one main street. We have found each other by the coincidence at the bus station (there are at least two bigger departure points). Everybody was p***d… off as the weather was bad. We have lost half of the day walking with our rucksacks in the rain.
We go into the shared taxi. Our direction was Semyenovka ( Czalpon-Ata – Semyenovka, time 1h, price75 som/person ). The orphan house founded by the family is there. We wanted to make them a surprise. They were not prepared to take care about the coming guests. Nonetheless we were kindly welcomed by Svetlana and her portages. The children were opened and smiled. They lived in a humble conditions but the house in general was clean and well maintained. We have been given the bean soup and as the dessert we had poppy-seed cake with jam. It was a bit shaming to sponge on the children but we have temperance in eating. Initially we were going to sleep here but we still have some time so we decided to go (I personally wanted to stay there). We left them small gifts such as colouring books, crayons, sweets and some money.
We started the journey to the Karakol ( Semyenovka – Karakol, price 150 som/person ). Our hostel there was ‘Jak Tur’ at the Gagarin’s Street 10 (the price 350 som for the night/person). The rooms were big and spacious. The bathroom was acceptable. We had a while for a rest here, to pack ourselves and to dry our tent.
Welcome dear compatriots
In the evening with better attitudes we went to have a dinner. In the restaurant we met Polish guy but I need to admit that I cannot remember his name. He came from Belgium for a trekking. His aim the same as ours’ was to get to the lake Ala Kul at the Altyn Arashan Valley but he wanted to go from the other side than we planned. During the conversation he explained that he met the Polish girl at the hostel and she was going to the mountains with him. We decided to go for a beer all together. He went to grab his Polish companion Zuza (the female’s names are more easily remembered than masculine ones 🙂 ).
When he came back to us he said that Zuza wanted to stay with the Polish couple that she had met. The touristic season was already finished but there were 8 of us- we Poles are everywhere :).
After the dinner all of us went to his own direction. The Polish guy went to his hostel we went to the shop. During the shopping we met previously mentioned Zuza. She has been travelling lonely since 6 months in the Central Asia. The next country where she wanted to go was Uzbekistan. The conversation was nice but short as we did not find common language. After the shopping we came back to the hostel to have deserved rest after the long day.