This week i've seen blue lakes, gold toothed doctors, dead headless goats and white mountains.
I was in Bishkek staying in a guesthouse in an apartment block run by a Muslim who was having a hard time trying to stick to the rules of ramadan and occupying his time harassing an American girl. Bishkek is a sunny tree lined city with friendly people and Soviet style buildings, parks, squares and statues. It also has corrupt policeman everywhere who try to search you and steal your cash and is home to the funniest collection of T-shirts With Random English anywhere. The following are the pick of the bunch.
Remember My Name, You'll Be Seeing It Later
No Money No Crisis
My Boyfriend Appreciates Me
No Romance Without Finance
You Were Never My Boyfriend
August 31st was Independence Day and was celebrated in the morning at a racecourse with a game called Ulak-Tartysh. Ulak-Tartysh is a very old game and unique to central Asia. It involves two teams of four on horseback, two raised pits and the carcass of a dead headless goat minus its entrails. Yes, you read that right. The aim of the game is to pick up the goat carcass and then throw it into your teams pit whilst blocking, stopping and preventing the opposing team doing the same thing all of which takes place on horseback in a field in the sunshine in front of a few thousand people, TV cameras and the president himself. It's as crazy as it sounds. We saw two games of this and it is a brutal sport with horses and riders colliding at speed all the time. The riders have extreme strength and skill - imagine riding a horse and bending down one handed to pick up a dead goat hook it under your leg, ride around and then take it with both hands and throw it into a raised pit whilst four other men are trying to grasp and take the goat and push and shove your horse with theirs. It's a bit like rugby. Except it's on horses and the ball is really very different. I'm thinking that an email campaign to the IOC for inclusion in the 2016 Olympics should be started soon.
Public transport in Kyrgyzstan is also a little crazy, although thankfully no dead goats have been involved yet. All buses seem to be minivans which all have the same schedule - they leave when they are full of people. I waited a while at a bus station and went to a one street town called Cholpon Ata on the shores of the huge Lake Issyk Kol. Cholpon Ata is famous in Kyrgyzstan for its beaches and Russian and Kazakh tourists sitting on the sand by the lake trying not to look fat and spending lots of money doing it. I joined them and looked poor, skinny and English. I thought i'd get a suntan. I almost got hypothermia. It was freezing. None of the Russians or Kazakhs seemed to mind at the gale blowing across the lake or the drizzle falling from the sky and that night my rumbling stomach problems that i've had since Kashgar became serious bowel problems and i left the next day to the town of Karakol in search of medical care.
The minivan to Karakol would've made me laugh if i hadn't have spent the whole journey trying not to throw up or shit my pants. The ignition didn't have a key but simply had a screwdriver wedged into it. A screwdriver was also the weapon of choice to open the boot, first to turn the lock then to prize it open so you could put your bag inside. As we were zooming along, the drivers door would randomly open without warning and then be quickly closed by the driver again as he was changing gear, talking on the phone and overtaking a tractor. In Karakol i found a doctors clinic and wandered around aimlessly clutching my Russian phrasebook and looking as sick as possible. A pharmicist took pity and showed me to a stern looking Russian woman doctor with gold teeth who thought that i could speak fluent Russian and immidiately bombarded me with questions and words that meant nothing. I pointed at my stomach and tried to point to the word "diahrea" in the phrasebook. She snatched it out of my hands and pointed to the word "rabies". I shook my head. Then she pointed at "encephalitis". I assured her as best as i could that i didn't have any sub-tropical mosquito diseases. Eventually she found the word "diahrea" and after poking my stomach a bit and pointing at more words she charged me one dollar and wrote a load of Russian on three pieces of paper and gave them to the friendly pharmacist. I don't know what they put in Russian/Kyrgyz medication but within two days i was bouncing off the walls and taking solid visits to the toilet again.
Karakol sits in between the eastern edge of the lake and two mountain ranges. On a clear day the snow capped peaks seem to surround the drab unassuming town and i spent two days hiking up and down a sunny valley filled with trees, a white water river and immense wonderful white-topped mountains. I'll be here for a day or two more and then head west trying to avoid dead headless goats, vans held together with screwdrivers, fat sunbathing Russians and, of course, rabies.