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Published: February 1st 2012
When I finally peeled my head off the pillow in Bishkek, did a little laundry, unpacked (actually... unpacked is pretty inaccurate, the same effect would be achieved by placing a small explosive in the centre of my backpack) and had some food, I was ready to go out and explore Kyrgyzstan's capital, as well as meet my new truck group.
Bishkek as a city, was nice enough in a concrete, soviet sort of way; it was busy and lived in, with monuments and museums, lots of pretty parks and places to sit outside, big broken outside arcades, and a lot of 'freedom' statues. Unfortunately, the only map I had was in my Lonely Planet, and due to A. Them getting the compass direction completely wrong and B. Putting street names in English despite everything actually being in Russian script, so it was impossible to figure out where you were, I spent most of the time lost and irritated.
When I got back, I met the crew, Adam & Ant. Both young guys, Ant broke up with his girlfriend a few months before, and was struggling with it big time, and was very much not at his
best during the time I spent with him. Adam was fun, kind, friendly, helpful, and good for staying up chatting and drinking with, where Ant got a little mopey and passed out by nine. They generally complemented each other well, Ant was very much the leader, speaker & decision maker, Adam was the one to go to if you needed anything, he had a great, easy-going, can-do attitude. Later I met the rest of the Dragoman people for dinner at SteinBrau- a German place that did great Shashlyk (a Kyrgyz dish: the most incredible kebab skewer ever- how do they make the fatty part taste SO good?) and brewed their own beer. I got to get to know people, like my great new roomie Julia, who's just one of those eternally positive people, who also happens to be extremely well travelled, and has just left a job in marketing in Singapore to study to be a wine buff in Australia, I liked her immediately.
I wimped out after dinner at Steinbrau, to crash out rather than go party in 'Chelsea Bar' (dancing girls just aren't my thing) ready for an early start to climb the nearby
Ala-Archa mountain, a few miles out of Bishkek. It was very pretty, scenic & impressive, similar (but not as
pretty) as Aksu-Zhabagly, but also steep, icey & slippery. One cool moment came when we stopped for a quick rest & to check out the view, when Nicky, who was walking about 20 metres ahead, shouted out "SNOW!!" Sure enough you could clearly see the snow falling all around her while we stood in t-shirts in the sunlight. As we watched, the snow gradually but very visually made its way towards us until we were also surrounded by masses of snowflakes & reached for thick hoodies & gloves, it was really cool, and a good day of walking, I got back knackered but happy.We returned to the same restaurant the next night where I tried tongue for the first time, it was really tasty, tender & delicious. But I must admit, the sandpaper tastebuds on the outside did freak me out a bit, there's just something not so sexy about the sensation of making out with a cow.The next day was a long day of driving, I listened to a bunch of music, and played
the first of many long games of Yahtzee (a poker-based dice game) before finally stopping in a town called Naryn on the way to the Torugart pass, where we did a bit of wondering around the simple town.
I tried a traditional drink that's kind of malty, but also really sweet with tastes of chocolate & coffee, served cold, it was nice, definitely an improvement on what the guy next to me had- the place was pretty much just a small grocery shop, but when he stumbled in, without saying anything, the woman behind the counter pulled out a nasty & probably pretty warm bottle of vodka, filled up a plastic cup to the top & stood back. He downed it, left a coin on the counter & walked out. Mmm, liver disease.
On the way back we passed a couple of kids playing football & stopped to watch, someone took a photo, then the boys wanted more photos then we started kicking the ball too, & before we knew it we'd started an impromptu match with seemingly half the community watching. I sucked, but managed to get a ball through the goal once, & narrowly missed another
Taking on Bruce Lee and Jacki Chan
with a header, I'm blaming the bobble hat. But no one kept score, everyone was just pleased to be kicking a ball about with people we wouldn't usually be kicking a ball about with, it was really fun, and everybody seemed to really like that we were there. The boys also really enjoyed playing with our cameras & my zoom lens, we did a few kung fu action shots, as well as bunch with all the other kids from the neighbourhood. I told them 'one more photo!' about a hundred times before we had to go back to our home stay for dinner, they were lovely kids, and it was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon.
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