Lenin and Me
He's still around...
So, after a day of wandering Bishkeks green parks, quiet streets, and colorful markets, I decided to get the hell out! This was August 11, 2012. I left my new Kyrgyz friend's house and headed to Osh Market where there were supposed to be buses to Ala Archa National Park waiting for meeeee! I was loaded up with all my hiking gear in my bright red Deuter 42L pack and not speaking any language common to the area and basically screaming, "TOURIST HERE! ANYONE WANNA SEE A TOURIST? TOURIST!" I was also at the busiest market in all Kyrgyzstan on SATURDAY. Great idea. So after waiting for my bus to show up (it never did) I worked up an appetite so I wandered around trying to find some bread and jam. Soon some "toughs" found me and claimed to be "military police" and demanded to see my passport. There were two of them and they grabbed my arms and kept shouting "passport" at me. I broke away from both of them (kung fu to the rescue!) and was met by yet a third man. They surrounded me and kept shouting for my passport. I shouted "no!" louder and louder and broke
A Generous Host
Bekyt: my man in Bishkek
away from the THIRD guy and went into a busy shop (where, coincidentally, they sold bread). So, in the end, nothing happened, and I survived my first mugging attempt. I purchased bread and returned to the bus stop and just hired a taxi and he took me straight to the park. This was at about 12:30pm on a Saturday afternoon at a market. I wasn't in a busy part, just in an open street alone. Another lesson learned. I also saw the men at a restaurant farther down the road drinking beer and eating french fries. Military police indeed! (That was the ugly, by the way)
Now for the good: Ala Archa National Park is the crowning point of the trip so far. I returned to Bishkek from there about an hour ago. Oh, first of all, the cab driver and I did not share ANY common language so we pantomimed a conversation for the hour drive it takes to the park. There was a statue of an ibex at the entrance to the park. I said, "ibex!". Apparently "ibex" is "ibex" in several languages and he replied with a loud, "Da!! Ibex! Da!" laughter. Both of us happy
A hike in Ala Archa National Park
that we finally understood something the other had said. A funny moment.
Anyway, the park is a stunning place of glaciers, mountains, valleys, and rivers. It is simply stunning. I hiked up to the southeast from the only hotel in the park (a really nice A-frame alpine hotel). I hiked up alone and met several folks along the way: an American guy that was translating the bible into Uzbek, other American Christian volunteers taking a group of orphans on a hike, several Russians and Czechs, and some SERIOUS mountain climbers. The hike was great. I hiked on the edge of a valley and had to cross a few creeks and saw some waterfalls. I got to my destination: a large cabin in this glacier valley at about 3,300 meters. It is above the "ice fall" and well above the tree line. I met a really nice Slovak couple there and we made plans to hike to one of the peaks the following day. We all had a pretty bad night because of the altitude, but skies were clear and we could see a MILLION stars! I saw the brightest shooting star I had ever seen (it reminded me of
4,540 meters and what I saw there
someone very special). I saw the milky way again and this time I was able to actually appreciate it because I wasn't exhausted from hiking all day. To reach the cabin, it only took about 4 hours.
The following day (yesterday) I met the Slovak couple at 6am and we headed up the mountain! It was another stupendous hike. Snow covered peaks and glaciers as far as you could see. We could see thunderstorms far off in the distance raining down on the plains in the north, more mountains and lakes to the south, WOW! We got to a final height of 4,540 meters. The sky is incredibly dark blue up there. I loved staring at the sky as much as the scenery around me. I had plenty of sun screen, too. The skies are super blue and the sun is super bright at that altitude. We hiked back down without incident. The Slovaks were some real hikers, too. They have travelled to every continent except Antarctica, the girl helps design cabins for Black Hawk Helicopters, the man is some specialized business man that was difficult to understand... Interesting folks. Ah! On the way down I saw ibex! A
My Slovak and Czech friends on top of the peak
whole group of them, maybe 15 or so. I just heard rocks tumbling and turned and saw one. Very exciting. Then I saw 3, then 5, then 10, 15. They blend into the rocks perfectly. They are so quiet, too. You could walk past 100 of them and never know it.
Now for the bad: when I returned from the hike, I found that someone had stolen my sleeping bag! Hey!!! Thankfully I had put everything except my sleeping bag and foam pillow into the Slovak's tent before we left, so thats all they got. Total cost of sleeping bag and pillow: $7.00USD. So, I'm not that upset about it. And the guy running the cabin felt bad and gave me a free night there ($5.00). It all works out, but come on! My sleeping bag sucks! You go to any other tent and you can find sleeping bags that cost well over $500.00. Why mine?? Whatever. Now I don't have to haul it around. Still, ROAR! The guy running the cabin also loaned me his sleeping bag for the night (again a better one than mine). It all worked out.
This morning I woke up early and
chatted with the Slovak couple (their names are Dominka and Lucas, so I will call them that from now on) while I helped them take down their tent and pack up. We were pretty quiet while working and talking and the ibex family wandered right into the camp! Again, 10 or 15 of them maybe 10 feet away! We took a bunch of pictures and they finally wandered off. I decided to follow them to see where they go. And then, the KING! KING IBEX with giant horns showed up. Holy cow! Holy ibex! Very impressive! (Note: I found an ibex skull in the nature reserve in Kazakhstan and was going to bring it home to mom. Doesn't every son do such nice things? Anyway, those horns are HEAVY!!! Really heavy! Sorry ma, no ibex skull for you... They are hard as rocks too. I hit the horns against rocks. No damage to either, so AS hard as rocks, yeah?) Anyway, a good start to the day. Other campers had their heads poked out of their tents watching the ibex walk around. Not bad. Also it was around freezing temperatures, yikes.
Dominika, Lucas, and I hiked down to the bottom and had a celebritory beer at the lodge and waited for our taxi to show up. We shared stories about visiting various national parks in the United States. They are a good group. Might be my first customers at my Yunnan Travel Company whenever I get that started. Everyone seems to think it is a good idea, so maybe it really is huh? Okay, I should get going! I hope all is well. Off to the lake tomorrow I think!
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