09 October 2007


We've discovered something. Backpackers spend a lot of time in backpacker cafes, on forums like the Lonely Planet's Thorntree, and huddled around backpacker noticeboards, getting information about their next destinations.

What we've discovered is that most of the information is hyped-up melodrama.

We made it across the previously formidable Irkeshtam pass in fourteen hours (we were quoted anything from 23-28; maybe we just got lucky). Yes, it was snowing, but nothing even Dallas hasn't seen before. And the hordes of buses we expected to run into because this was the first time the pass was open in the last ten days? Yeah. They weren't there. There was one bus, full of retired French people and an officious, bustling Kyrgyz-and-Chinese-speaking guide. And there were a couple of carfuls of Kyrgyz traders. That's it. There were more pots and pans there than there were people.

It took us 25 minutes to get across the Chinese side of the border, and another 25 to get across the Kyrgyz side of the border. In between, we were trundled onto makeshift vans with the aforementioned pots and pans and Kyrgyz traders (although we had to pay $1.50 for a ride that was free for the locals, thanks to a Chinese official looking to make a buck) for the five-minute ride across no-man's land.

After the heated, cement Chinese border post, we pushed and shoved our way past these traders—who got increasingly aggressive as the day wore on—into a ramshackle wooden hut that was the extent of Kyrgyz border control. It did have the green nothing-to-declare and red declaration lanes, but everyone walked between the two. Ah well.

Here is the extent of Kyrgyz customs:

1. Get escorted into a small office with a severe looking official. Thankfully, the office is heated.

2. Hand him your passport.

3. Tell him your name.

4. Figure out that "vurks-hoom?" means "What's your profession at home?" and answer appropriately.

5. Smile, despite yourself, and say "no" when he points to your backpack and says, "Drugs?"

At this point, your passport is unceremoniously slid across a table back to you, with a small smile and raised eyebrow, and the word "Finish."

Then walk out and find yourself a taxi to Osh. There are plenty, happy to pocket your US dollars.

Osh, I've got to say, has very little to recommend it. It's evidently one of the oldest cities in the world (older than Rome, they like to remind you here). A steep massif sits at the west end of town, bathetically named Solomon's Throne, from which you can get a sweeping, panoramic view of this post-Soviet town, and, well, that's about it. Not even great internet access. (So, no pictures yet). And our hostel here rivals the one in Beijing for worst-ever. Toilet seats are optional. Pubic hair on the rim, though, isn't.

Our plan—horses, weather, and terrain willing—is to ride through central Kyrgyzstan for the next five days or so, on our way to Bishkek, the capital. We'll be away from e-mail for nearly a week, then, so forgive us if we don't get back to you.

In other news: We've just been informed that we may not actually be going to Sierra Leone. (And all that history reading! All for naught!) Evidently, with the newly-elected administration installed, there are some kinks that have to be worked out, which may not be worked out by February. If not, we'll be in Liberia instead, which was where we originally thought we'd be going anyway. We'll keep you updated.

1 comment:

proonner paraphrases said...

Dude! those toilets seem to be an adventure all by themselves! thank you btw for the detail. (gross.) and i am praying that you guys get to go to sierra leone. they totally need you there. though i'm sure the liberians do as well. but sierra leone!!!!!!!! i totally have a soft spot. keep writing!!!