Internet access has been harder to get hold of here than expected. It’s easy to get on the net but the connection speeds have been so slow sometimes that we’ve given up. The guesthouse in Osh was still on dial up, and there’s little sign of being able to get reliable access to plug my laptop in, so I’ve been writing some posts offline waiting until I can get a connection.
Our time in Osh was ok but nothing startling. The border crossing was easy and consisted of keeping the border guards amused while they repeated our names an endless amount of times to get the pronunciation correct, dreamed of having Ciara as their bride, and other things you’d probably have to do to keep yourself amused when working at a border crossing which only has the odd tourist crossing (it’s still closed to locals apart from in exceptional circumstances). After walking across what’s usually referred to as ‘no man’s land’ between border checks (although it was only about 50 metres here), the Kyrgz immigration guy had to be called over to come to the booth – it had clearly been a busy day for them.
Osh was a very busy and crammed town compared to what we had witnessed in Uzbekistan. There were far more modern cars with regular glimpses of Audi’s and the odd Merc scattered throughout the Ladas. I’ve now consigned myself to believing that I really would like a Lada Riva 4×4. I’ve had a secret longing for them and I’m sure even Jeremy Clarkson said they were really useful 4x4s, but over here I’ve seen them bashing through all sorts. I’m sure it would be a great car to do the Mongol Rally in. (Pic : Osh ‘cityscape’ 😉 )
You see I’ve also realised that this would be a great place to have your own transport. I get quite jealous in some ways thinking of the Swiss couple in Tashkent who had been travelling with their own van for 9 months (‘The little BuBu’). Over here it’s definitely been the hardest place to sort out transport as there is so little English spoken, if at all. I can hardly complain about that if you think of the average Ruski landing in Scotland trying to communicate but hey…I can still say it’s hard. Even when we turn up somewhere and say we want to travel by ‘marshutra’ (a shared minibus) we’re often met with the answer that there are none……I still don’t know know if they really mean there’s not one. I think they really mean ‘There’s not one here right now, and you’re a westerner so you probably don’t want to wait and would prefer the comfort of my bashed up car instead’. Inevitably we feel that we’re cornered and end up paying for a taxi, get pissed off that we’ve been ripped off (even though we may not have been)….and even more inevitably, 30 minutes into our journey, we’ll see a f*$!ing minibus going the same route!! At the bus station today in the town that we never wanted to go to, we were told 2 different answers to our question of “Sarey Chelek?” between 5 people…so which one do you gun for? You see you can’t be definite the three year old guidebook you’ve bought it still correct as a lot must change in three years here, but yet you can’t explain what the f*$!ing guidebook says, no-one reads English, the maps are pretty shit (partly due to my obsession for not buying a Lonely Planet this time, and my obsession for having a guidebook for each country I visit…and after our first glance of the Central Asia Lonely Planet we were mad keen to get one – sadly we were in Kyrgyzstan by then!).
I’m used to getting ‘ripped off’ as a tourist, but in the likes of South East Asia it usually means haggling over a few dollars here and there. It’s as much a game as anything, and it can get quite fun once you’re used to it. Today we got offered a starting price of $80 for a taxi which ended up coming down to $23.
Anyway, I go off on a tangent. Osh is a pretty grubby town really – there’s not much there to hold the tourist’s attention for long apart from one thing which I’ll get to. There’s an overwhelming stench of fumes that you slowly get more accustomed to. There’s a small mountain ridge that’s in the centre of the town which you get a decent view of the city (at least it would be decent if the city looked decent). One good thing is that there are distant views of some big kick ass snow topped mountains in the distance – Peak Lenin which tops off at around 7300m isn’t a million miles away – there’s a road to China, there’s some decent trekking about 80km away, and there’s a bloody massive and really interesting market in town – apparently the biggest in this region outside of Kashgar in China (and if you haven’t heard of that one – it’s massive).
The market spans almost 2km and sells a bit of everything. If you’ve heard me talking about travelling before you’ll know I love markets. From cow’s cock in Cambodia to cow’s hoofs in Osh I think it’s amazing what these foreign markets sell – I only wish we had more like it back home where you could just buy 5g of a spice you needed once a year rather than 500g in bloody Tescos. The spices were amazing, most of which I never recognised, the teas were never ending and there was some great fruit. The butcher’s stands could have been done with a significant dose of hygiene though. Strangely there are an uncomfortable amount of fresh Morrison’s supermarket carrier bags offered with purchases from many of the stalls. I can only hope this isn’t where Morrison’s source their meat from! I assume some Morrison’s bags have made it across the Chinese border from the factory somewhere.
All I walked away with from the market were some pistachio nuts (which are still bloody expensive here), some cherries, dried grapes, and the creme de la creme……. 3 felt Kyrgyzstan hats to be proud of. One traditional one, and one modern ‘Kyrgz’ baseball cap take on the traditional!
Ciara was also getting friendly with some locals :
Whilst in Osh we stayed at the Osh guesthouse which is basically a tiny apartment in a run down block of Soviet apartments – a bit like Westerhailes in Edinburgh, but worse looking. We opted for the flashpacker option of the private room and facilities, which was basically the apartment next door. Credit where it’s due though, the guy who runs it is admirable in that he is offering budget accommodation for tourists right where it’s needed. He offers some great advice and information, and can help with visa’s, private itineries and shared or private cars to take you around. If the rest of Kyrgyzstan had guesthouses and hostels like this then it would transform Kyrgyzstan for backpackers and provide a credible alternative to the expensive tour companies.
Anyway we split from there and headed to Arslanbob which is in the mountains. Oh yeh, and we never saw any sign of violence in Osh – even if there was we probably would have been unaware. We also only passed through Jalal Abad’s bus station but were unaware of anything.
Arslanbob was quite easy to get to on public transport but again we felt a tad ripped off from the taxi driver – we paid 1500 Som instead of what should have been around a tenth of that from Bazaar Korgon to Arslanbob.
Our home stay was lovely with a really friendly family. We sorted out a one day trek with Community Based Tourism to see the ‘small waterfall, panoramic view, walnut forests and big waterfall’. It turned out to be a deceptively big day and we were both a bit knackered after 6.5hrs walking up to about 2100m (but started out at 1500m!). We had got used to the long drop outside toilet by the time we left, but there was sod all to do around the village.
The next day we headed to Sarey Chelek….where most Kyrgz ‘dream of’ going to one day’ according to the guidebook……
Turns out it was a mission to get to, we felt ripped off again, stayed in another homestay where we didn’t really spend much time with the family, and yet again, the scenery was great but nothing better or more exotic than you could see in Scotland. Tomorrow we’re heading to Bishkek. We met a tour group from Exodus in Sarey Chelek today and it was great having a conversation with others in English but for once I got quite jealous of people in a tour group as its been hard communicating here. They never rated the east of Kyrgyzstan much (“a run down Soviet resort”) so it never got our hopes up. They informed us that apparently there had been trouble in Osh with a couple of killings and some injuries, probably the day after we left there so their tour was re-routed back to Bishkek rather than crossing at that border. We may try and spend some time in BIshkek trying to sort out some kind of tour in Mongolia so we don’t feel the same there.
I’ve got some quotes from Ciara though :
“When do you think we’ll stop long enough to realise where we are?”. Said on….. Day 2 of our trip.
As we watched a cow walking past the window of the Sarey Chelek homestay :
“All I can smell is shit. Shit in the garden, shit in the long drop, shit on the road, the whole place is a shithole.”
We’re going to buy some vodka soon. The picture here is from some wee shop in Osh – quote some vidka selection I thought. Sometimes on this trip, I think we’ll need it, and so far (apart from at Chimgan, Uzbekistan) it hasn’t been quite as flowing as expected. Jeez we can’t even find a bloody shop to buy water in the village that we’re in just now. That’s hardly a surprise though as the guy stopped to get a bottle of petrol out of some guys garden this afternoon. It may be some days until this is posted……