Tag Archives: Kyrgyzstan

Awkward Crime and Amazing Accomplices in Kyrgyzstan

Just a short funny travel story that’s…

Obviously Awkward and Amazing

Last year in Kyrgyzstan, I stayed with a wonderful host family in Kochkor. Even though there is nothing to do in Kochkor itself, I decided to stay on an extra day, for the sole reason of enjoying the relaxed and peaceful atmosphere that this family provided in their home.

One day, I went food shopping at the local bazaar. Before I left, Lola told me that I had to be careful as they were laying cement in the hallway, so I must just watch where I step while it dries. When I got back, the power was out and the hallway was very dark. And, you’ve guessed it, I stepped in the cement.

Luckily the only witnesses were the two little daughters of the family. At first they stood wide eyed and then one said: “Oh-oh.” A very universal term! While I was standing on one leg with a cement covered foot in the air, the more industrious girl went to fetch some wet wipes. We managed to clean my foot and to press the cement back down into my footprint, carefully covering up my crime scene.

I left for Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, the next day. I’m not sure if our crime was ever discovered and if it was, I hope that my two brilliant accomplices didn’t get into trouble and that they could successfully blame it on the tourist.

Life List Entry: Covered up a crime

Why Bikers and Backpackers are the Same

Awkward or Amazing?

Amazing

This post is dedicated to adventure biker Tibor, whom I met while backpacking in Kyrgyzstan.

My family loves two things: travel and bikes

My mother loves nothing more than the cobblestone streets of Paris and Rome. My father and brothers’ hearts soar on solo trips on obscure South African gravel roads on his 1100 GS. While I scratch out countries on my scratch map of the world, my father highlights dirt roads on his map of South Africa.

For a brief period, I tried being a biker. I bought my brother’s old 650 GS and my dad tried to teach me to ride on our farm. I did okay on the gravel road and even managed to ride standing up, but once I hit the tarmac my brain short-circuited. When I eventually got better at picking up a bike than riding it, I gave up and sold the bike. It wasn’t a total fail. Picking up a bike turned out to be a useful and transferable skill.

This weekend two bikers visited our farm

My parents turned our old manor house into an agri-turismo styled, biker-friendly guest house. It’s not a full time endeavor and sometimes we forget that the house is advertised as such. Yesterday, a biker couple called my mother and I was promptly put out of my room – the official guest room. I didn’t mind so much. After all, I haven’t stayed in one room for more than a week since May last year.

It can be awkward to open your house to strangers

We initially decided to make ourselves scarce so that the visitors can enjoy the peace and quiet of the farm. When the visitors arrived, my parents welcomed them and made some small talk. About bikes of course. Very soon small talk turned into long conversations. When my dad discovered that we might not have enough beer in the house, he came up with the ingenious idea that we should all go to the Darling Brewery for a beer tasting. The five of us squeezed into the car and set off to the Tannie Evita’s little town, chatting all the way. As we tasted great beers with quirky names (my favourite being the Rogue Pony ale) we shared stories about everything from our New Year’s Eves to devastating illnesses.

Now, I know the difference between being polite and really getting on like a house on fire

At a lakeside yurt camp in Bokonbaeva, Kyrgyzstan, I had a really hurtful experience when I realized that my fellow guests were only speaking to me because I was forcing them to. So I know that this instant friendship with our biker guests was real.

This made me think that bikers and backpackers are not so different

All of those people who excluded me from their conversations in Kyrgyzstan were there for short trips. The people that I’ve met that I did get on with were all backpackers on extended trips in Central Asia or round-the-world travelers like myself. Somehow these individuals were easier to connect with than the holiday makers. Okay, maybe the holiday makers were just trying to unwind and didn’t feel like talking to strangers (even delightful ones such as myself). Maybe backpackers are just starved for company and therefore willing to take the risk to engage.

More likely, backpackers are all kindred spirits who rejoice when they find each other. And I think it is the same with bikers. Just as you cannot understand what it’s like to float around from hostel to hostel with nothing to root you to the ground if you haven’t done it yourself, it’s impossible to understand what it’s like to be a biker if you’ve never been on one. If you’ve never smelled foliage from an open visor or rode standing up on a sandy road.

Backpackers don’t ask other backpackers why they want to travel to remote regions of the world. Bikers don’t ask other bikers why they take the long way to some hole in the wall. They know.

The camaraderie between bikers and backpackers are different than what you’d find between cyclists or vegans or martial artists or other groups of people who share a particular passion. Backpackers and bikers are driven by the pursuit of  freedom that can only be found on the open road. When you find a kindred spirit who understand your particular brand of adventure, it’s impossible to remain strangers.

I’m not surprised that our guests this weekend turned into friends. Just like I’m not surprised that one of my dearest friends that I’ve made in Kyrgyzstan happened to be riding a 650 GS through Central Asia. It’s in our blood, after all.

Life List Entry: Bought, rode and sold a bike

A Reflection on Solo Travel

1 September 2015.

For South Africans, this date announces the first day of Spring. While many Stellenbosch students are likely to be prancing around Victoria Street in floral sundresses in the cold and rain today, I am celebrating the half-way mark of my epic Round-The-World Adventure in sunny Miami. And today, I would like to reflect on what I’ve learned about solo travel over the last 3 months.

So, Solo Travel: Awkward or Amazing?

Amazing!

6 Reasons Why I Love Solo Travel

1) You can change your plans at a whim

When you travel solo, you can do whatever the hell you like. It’s all up to you. In the three months that I’ve been travelling I’ve made countless changes to my plans on a moment’s notice. Here are two of my favourites

Late Night Chats in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

I was planning on setting off to Arslanbab the next day. Just before going to bed I made idle chit-chat with a guy in my dorm. He told me about a National Horse Games festival in Osh that was taking place in two days time. And just like that I decided to go to the horse games instead and ended up travelling with him for several days. Not only did I get to see the horse games, I also got to take a trail blazing day trip to Toktogul, a town that hardly gets a mention in the Lonely Planet.

FOLLOWING WHIMS IN THE USA

While studying a map of Amtrak routes aboard the California Zypher, I decided to change my plan of travelling from Washington down the east coast to Miami via Savanna and to rather travel from Washington to New Orleans through the Deep South. Which ended up to be one of the best decisions of my life. I met amazing new friends – with whom I share amazing memories of eating messy Po’ Boys in Magazine Street, dancing to Jazz tunes at Frenchman, watching the Saints get beaten by the Texans, wiping tears while listening to Katrina stories and getting our Spiritual groove on Sunday morning at the Church next to our hostel.

2) I can eat and drink whatever I want.

If grabbing a bagel from the hostel breakfast table for lunch means that I can ride the Chicago Navy Pier Ferris Wheel – great! Or, if I want to indulge in pulled pork burgers and grapefruit shandy while appreciating some live blues at Smoke Daddy – I can do that too. Although, I can hardly think of anyone who would say no to that.

3) You can “do” sights and attractions much faster

This gives you more time to just relax and take it slow in a park or coffee shop or the rooftop deck of your hostel. I’ve already read 11 books this summer!

5) It’s easier to meet people.

When you travel in a group you tend to keep to your flock. But when you’re flying solo, you are more likely to engage with strangers. In fact, locals are more likely to engage with you. In Kyrgyzstan where white females traveling by themselves are exotic sights, the locals were practically falling over their feet to ask me where I’m from, why I’m not black if I’m from Africa and why “I am one.” And it wasn’t just personal questions. On a marshrutka ride from Karakol to Kochkor, I spent a good few hours chatting with a fellow passenger about goods made in China and Canadian gold mining companies. When we ran out of words, we just pointed at places on my map of Kyrgyzstan. He ended up inviting me to his house, promising that he would slaughter a lamb in my honour. Although this is a gesture of great respect in Kyrgyzstan, from a safety point of view it wouldn’t have been wise to accept. Besides, I hate lamb.

5) You Get to Staying in Hostels

If you travel solo and you want any type of social interaction, you pretty much have to stay in a hostel. I love it (for the most part). It takes me back to boarding school and university residences – both places that I have very fond memories of. A lot of hostels, like Generator in Paris, are so posh these days that you might as well be staying in a hotel. Yet, some of my most sociable experiences has been in hostels that felt more like student digs than hotels, notably Hostel Nomad in Bishkek, Capital View Hostel in Washington, DC and Auberge Nouvelle Orleans in New Orleans. I guess the social dynamic in a hostel depends a lot on the guests present at the time, but so far I think that if a hostel resembles a real home, guests would be more likely to interact like they would at home.

Actually, as far as I can tell, living in a hostel is similar to living in a house with small children: there’s shouting and crying at night, walls are covered in crayon scribbles, there are never any sharp knives in the kitchen and if you don’t want them to get their sticky hands on your stuff you have to lock it up.

Two things I have been sorely missing on my solo travels

1) Real Interaction With My Friends and Family

I am missing out on a lot back home. While I’ve been travelling, my friends have announced pregnancies and plans to buy property and I’m missing out on all of it. Whatsapp and Facebook keeps me in the loop, but it’s not the same as sharing the experience over a cup of tea. And no matter what they say about global villages, it’s darn difficult to schedule Skype calls if there’s a massive time difference. And reliable WIFI is not a given, not even in the USA.

2) Real Mental Stimulation

I know this sounds counter intuitive. I’m out in the world and constantly surrounded by new sights and experiences. Isn’t that stimulating? No, not in the way that I realise I need. To me, this is assimilation, like a child soaking up new languages and concepts like a sponge. It is wonderful and I treasure it and try to immerse myself in it.

But it’s not enough.

I am used to the hamster in my head sprinting at break-neck speed in his little wheel to help me solve complex problems, follow my friends’ insanely clever conversations and just orchestrating my limbs during karate training.

At the moment, my mental hamster has left its wheel completely and can be found grooming in the corner by the water bowl.

And I guess that is what is happening. My mind is being decorated with wonderous experiences, but it’s not actually getting any exercise. I’ve only started to get an idea of how intellectually intense my job had been, now that I’m deprived of it. This is a big issue that none of the articles on long term travel have warned me against.

However, it’s not an insurmountable problem. Earlier this week, I’ve had a wonderfully satisfying conversation with a park ranger for Amtrak’s Trails and Rails program. She’s a former meteorologist and, since I was on my way to New Orleans on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we talked for hours about the formation of tropical storms, tornadoes and all kinds of science-y weather issues. But these conversations are few and far between.

There are other ways. I have managed to snag a freelance job ghost-writing a children’s book. Fiction is a new mental challenge and it has been helping to get my hamster back into the wheel. I still miss science, though.

Don’t get me wrong. For the most part, I’m enjoying the down time. And I know that soon I will be back in Cape Town, with a hamster running in its wheel listening to the sound of horses galloping across the Kyrgyz jailoos while looking at a motivational poster of tropical waters surrounding Gili-Tragawan. So, I’m doing my best to assimilate as much as I can, while I can.

So, if you’ll excuse me, I am off to paint some pictures of Miami’s South Beach for my hamster cage.

Life List Entry: Travelled (mostly) solo for 3 months

Shopping at Osh Bazaar in Bishkek

Awkward or Amazing

As usual, a bit of both.

Where is this Osh Bazaar?

Not just a question posed to introduce you to my new find, but also a question I asked myself repeatedly today as I trotted along Chuy avenue – Bishkek’s main road. Let’s take a few steps back. Osh Bazaar is in Bishkek, the capital city  of Kyrgyzstan. While Kyrgyzstan is renowned for its natural beauty, the same can not be said for Bishkek. The city has a few redeeming green park areas, but its bland buildings, overwhelming flatness and pot-holed sidewalks are quite uninspiring.

On my first day here, I walked about the gardens with  a soft serve ice cream, trying to find the eight sites on Lonely Planet’s list. After I managed to find and correctly identify a few, I decided to head off to Osh Bazaar for a typical Central Asian shopping experience and to perhaps get a bite of street food. It didn’t seem too far on the map, but then again I have been known to walk across cities thinking the same. I walked and walked and walked for what seemed like forever, stopping every now and again to decipher Cyrillic street names just to find out that it was still several blocks away.

Osh Bazaar and what I found there

When I finally spotted the grey gate with big red Cyrillic letters I knew it would be worth it. I usually don’t take “beware of pickpockets” tips very seriously, but this time I was a little weary – perhaps because warnings about the infamous Narantuul “black” market in Ulaan Bataar were still ringing in my ears after so many years.

I snapped a quick picture of the main gates and then shopped in wonder, stopping here and there to take a stealthy picture. They literally sell everything at Osh Bazaar (except for the travel towel that  I so desperately needed). Jeans, lingerie, vegetables, spices, linoleum, horse saddles, army boots, dried goods, shampoo, fruits, breads, shoes, eggs and raw meat of all kinds, including chicken.

Osh basaar

I bought a fold-over pastry from an old woman for lunch. As I left the market, I started picking at the dough. It was delicious. Yet, the thought of the raw chicken sold close by made me feel a little uneasy about the filling. After gingerly taking a bite (yum),  I decided that it wasn’t worth it to risk food poisoning. With great sadness I tossed it.

Luckily pastries are not just sold at Osh Bazaar. I walked past a food stand with pastries on my way to the Bishkek CBT office (Community-based Tourism). I bought a similar pastry and ate it with gusto, completely ignoring the possibility that the meat for this one may have been bought at Osh Bazaar.

Samosa for lunch

Life List Entry: Avoided food poisoning at a Kyrgyz bazaar