Saturday, 10 August 2013

Krazy Kyrgyzstan

We woke up a little late in Qo Qon (pronounced Gok Wan, maybe) in Uzbekistan but eventually made our way to the Kyrgyzstan border and arrived in the small town of Izboskan just after midday. Once we got there we started to attract a lot of attention from the locals, before we knew it all the men of the town came over to help us, and stare at the five westerners with their bizarre cars. They helpfully informed us that not only was the border closed but even when its open you can only cross on foot. No car crossings allowed.

That was the least of our problems though, as one of the Finnish boys headed over to Mike and whispered something into his ear. The boys quickly said "Thank you we will head to the next border town along" and we left.

When I asked why we left so suddenly, I was told that the boys saw a man heading into the crowd holding a hand grenade under his folded arms!

We had read that there was conflict between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan a few years ago so tension is obviously still high and Mr Hand Grenade wanted a better look at these intruders in case they were a threat. We aren't obviously but I am glad we left when we did.

The locals told us we would have to go back through the main city and head to Osh which is east of Uzbekistan. There is a crazy degree of poverty in certain areas of Uzbekistan. You do drive through these beautiful modern cities like Samarkand and Qo Qon which have all the shops and cafes you'd expect, but when we got to the town of Osh 90% of the houses were rubble with people still living in them.

The pavements are dirt tracks and there are military men walking around with guns strapped to their shoulders. During to the conflict that took place a few years ago it looks like Osh got the brunt of it.

Once we got to the border we had to do the usual form filling in but there was a massive queue for passport control.  Being obviously tourist the customs guys just want to get you through asap which means they push you to the front of every queue.  Great for us, not so great for the thirty Uzbeki/Kyrgy women who have been in the line for a good half an hour. Especially as I'm in my denim short shorts trying to cope with the heat myself. They must of thought I was a right little madam. Still I would give the advice to any girls travelling through the region, if you want to get preferential treatment, use the pins. So long as you're with a guy. I did get some marriage proposals that day.

We stood in line though feeling rather awkward, getting some nasty looks from the locals when from the back of the line we hear this loud happy voice,

"Hello!  Where you from?"

This lovely Uzbeki lady with a full set of big shiny gold teeth was beaming at us.

"What are you doing here?"

She told me she was an English teacher and was translating to everyone in the line what we were doing, which I think eased their anger towards us for queue jumping. By the end of it we were all laughing and joking.  All through Uzbekistan I seemed to attract all the big Uzbeki Mumma's with their thick bushy eyebrows and gold shiny teeth.

Once we were through we made our way to Jalal-Abad we finally managed to find a hotel and crashed for the night.

When we woke up, we knew we had a big day of driving ahead of us up into the Tien Shan mountain range which are just west of the Himalayas and towards Bishkek so we set off.

For some unknown reason the majority of the ATM's in Kyrgyzstan are VISA card only, which for Mike and myself was frustrating as we only have MasterCard.  We had to borrow some cash from the Finns to tie us over until we could find an ATM and pay them back. Another bit of advice for any would-be travellers to Kyrgyzstan, take both VISA and MasterCard.

We were all looking forward to the key selling point for going through Kyrgyzstan; the mountains that cover the majority of the country.  As we weaved in and out turquoise blue lakes appeared seemingly from out of nowhere. The contrast between the colour of the lake and the mountains was insane.  To say we were gobsmacked is an understatement.

Every corner you turned the view got more and more breathtaking. Each mountain seemed to be covered in flora of all the colours of the rainbow. Then once we finally got over one set of mountains it plateaued into a lush green rolling into the distance.  Herds of goats, cows and horses were dotted all over them with the round traditional homes, Gers (pronounced yert) nestled and spotted all over the place.

We could see snowy mountain tops in the distance but in true travelling form the rain set in distorting out view.  I was a little disappointed but it didn't put a dampener on what we had just driven through.

Once over the mountains we had Bishkek locked in our sights, but with it now being 9pm we needed to find a hotel asap.  This was easier said than done when there are 5 of you, you're in a capital city and it being late at night. Every hotel/hostel appeared to be fully booked.  Midnight was creeping up fast by the time we finally found a hotel room and about 1am before we got to put our heads on a pillow.

It was an exhausting end to a fantastic day.

There is snow there, promise.

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