Tuesday, September 24, 2013

My apple garden

I don't want to leave the people in Bishkek but I like Karakol, it is my safe haven. When a hitchhiking partner leaves you, you're looking for stability. And I feel that Karakol is the place I have to be. That's where I know the most people. I don't want to leave Janela who is in Karakol but she will be working crazy hours anyway and won't have any time. Plus, her friends are really worrying about us seeing too much of each other so it is best for everyone that I flee to Karakol now. I also promised to an old lady that I met on the street that I will teach her daughter english and I am already half a week late.
I took a marshutka to Kant and from there I got Tokmok, first hike alone. Tokmok, criminal city they say and of course I stop a gang leader who used to control the north side of Tokmok. He took money from people who had plenty, kept some and gave to others who had none. Modern robin hood you might say. Now he's retired, he has been in the army as a radio control whatever and is now retired from all that also. He lived in Norway for about five years with his wife; the good one as he calls her (he's been divorced once). The good wife has blond colored hair and as we would say in France, she has generous forms. He has a house in tokmok with sheep, goats, chicken and whatnot. His house also had a Bania, which works quite often and was heated when I came in. I might have mentioned it earlier but the Bania is a ceremonial event, we heat it about once a week so the higiene in this country is very different from europe. You don't notice it though.
He likes me, my way of travelling and my challenge.
"Filip Maladyec!", he says and I am invited to his house to eat lunch. I take a shower, they wash my clothes.
Almas drives me the end of Tokmok where I catch a ride to 25 kilometers before Balachy. This ride takes me just out of politeness, they are frustrated that I didn't give them money and spend the way making stupid jokes about me. I am used to handle these situation, this is no trouble at all.
I wanted to make it to Ananyevo to sleep at my friend's place but I only make it to Cholpon-Ata. Two retired medical workers from Kazakhstan take me to their home.
"What the fuck are you doing here without money, travelling like this and all?"
"Volunteer work in Karakol. Teaching english."
The man shakes his head. He is kind hearted but cynic as a stone. He was a heart doctor, he probably had time to become a cynic. His wife, on the other hand is kind and nice as a feather.
"Your parents probably didn't beat you enough," says the cynic, "Please just take one room in out dacha and go to sleep. Eat raspberries and apples. Goodbye"
And I also get dinner, that's without mention.
Janela calls me and we talk for a long time. She's very worried, she's happy that I'm in a safe place and not sleeping in a tent. Appearently she's interested in every detail of my day, probably including the color of my socks. With some people we like ourselves, with some people we hate ourselfes. And I like myself with Janela.
In the morning, he takes me to his neighbours and tells them that this stupid guy is willing to work for free so they can just give me lunch and I'll take care of their garden. He's joking of course.
I get to Ananyevo the next day with a free taxi. Chingiz is in front of his house, on the street. He has his hands full with work, he doesn't have a lot of time but is happy to see me. He's obviously still not in America as he planned but he is working on it. I went to see Kairad next. He has gotten into a fight again but has scared his opponent away with an axe. I am not surprised anymore. This internet club of his, while being a smart business is obviously a source of trouble. People not willing to pay for the time spent online, people stealing other people's time to take it for themselves. Internet is like a drug and customers like drug addicts. Kairad needs to rule over this anarchy with an iron hand.
I get Karakol with two russian guys and a girl who are going all the way to Karakol. Both of them are called Sergey and they speak english.
Their are going to start working on the Sunhouse Hostel.
The Sunhouse hostel is one of the business ideas that have got my attention during this trip. And I have got wind of hundereds of business ideas. Selling fruits to europe, trafficking cars to georgia, buying land in Issyk-Keul, building hotels at Ala-Keul, selling Armenian specialities in a restaurant in europe, you name an idea, I've heared it. But most of these ideas are just dreams, they're not backed up by anything solid. Most of the time, people will not dare put them into practice, they will merely speak loads about how it will work great and how they will go to America.
The Sergeys they know what they're getting into. They have a Natacha in their team which makes a good thinking mix in the team.
"Karakol is the summer home of the world," says Sergey one and I could not agree more. Karakol is the summer home of the world and the Sunhouse Hostel can be it's "mise en abime", a summer home in a summer home. And that is smart.
There is a risk of course, it is the same risk with every business in Issyk-keul: we bet on the fact that more tourists will come.
It is a reasonable risk because rationaly speaking, more tourists should come. Kyrgyzstan is beautiful, its nature is more beautiful that any french mountain landscape, more beautiful than Switzerland, more beautiful than Caucase. The country has bad press because of its revolutions but I feel safer in Bishkek than I would be in Paris. In europe, I never take out my computer from its bag for fear to be stolen, here I am parading my tablet for the whole world to see.
I listen to the Sergeys talking about their project and once or twice during the event I am even thinking to invest. This is also because the Sergeys never asked me to invest, because they have smartly chosen their investors without falling into the credit black hole Kyrgyz people are enslaved in.
They are acting calmly, with motivation instead of emotion, with reason instead of hope. They want to open on December 1st because the skiing season will start.
The hostel is smartly situated in the south of Karakol, in the direction of the Skiing base. It makes a reasonable alternative for tourists who want to access the city on a timely basis and still can make it to the ski base. It is also a good transit camp. There is another camp in Karakol, it is called Turkestan Yurt camp and it is in the center. The Yurt Camp is just a good hostel for travellers looking for a place to sleep, it is kind of unusable otherwise. I remember our first expedition to Ala-keul, where we lost the Polish guys because they camp in Yurt Kamp was just to far.

The Sergeys told me that I could stay in the garden of their hostel as long as I wanted and eat all the apples and pears in their garden. And there were so many apples, I actually never got to the pears. I came to love this place as my apple garden.
"Oh no you're sleeping in a tent? Are you cold?" Janela is worse than Poly, she's as bad as my mother. But because of her high-pitched voice, her questioning is very cute.

The next day, I inform Elana that I am in Karakol and ready to teach English. Elana tells me she's too busy with school and doesn't have time to take english lessons. So I've come all the way to Karakol in vain. All the people I told I'll be doing volunteer work, will that be a lie? It won't because one day I go to charge the computer to Elana's place so she agrees to one english lesson anyway. She's 17, she wants to study in china and she basically lives under the strict rule of her parents, as most children do.

It is my first and last lesson with her but it is enough to make me an official volunteer. My next mission in Karakol is to start the charity campaign for Janela. I go on the internet in front of the school and there is a small circle of people forming arouund me.
"Hello," says the girl. And then nothing.
"How are you?"
"I'm fine and you?"
"I'm fine"
Blank. Huge blank. I am used to people throwing arount the three sentences but this girl is really trying as it was a challenge. I see her girlfriends calling her back but she has only one shot, she doesn't want to lose it.
"Parusky gavarite?"
Yeah I speak russian and I think this is really funny. She is stressed, it obvioulsy took all of her courage to speak to this stranger. She is 18 and studying finance at the university of Karakol.
"Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend?"
I say no to both of these questions, a little taken aback from what she wants. She's eighteen for god's sake, that's still a child, she could not be possibly thinking she could have a shot at a relationship with me. But different culture, different measures, so maybe this is common practice in here. It surely isn't for me. I try to get away from this unconfortable thematic but she doesn't let me.
"Why don't you have a girlfriend?"
I explain to her that I am travelling for one year and having a girlfriend in these conditions is impossible. It doesn't seem to convince her but it closes the subject.
She wants to take english lessons and I just hope she knows the difference between an english lesson and a date. Judging by the SMS I get from her, I think not.
The next day we set a meeting and she doesn't come. That's ok, I write my blog instead but then she sets another meeting for the next day. She doesn't come the next day either which is fine by me because I also have this unreliable attitude. The next day however I decide to go to the mountains. Pic Karakol is impossible to climb in this time of year they say so I decide to go to Djeti Oguz, the place of the seven miracles.

I get there in the late afternoon. Nothing special about the rides, just one guy who tries to sell me his friend's wife for fifty dollars while she was in the car. I don't have any food again, just some water and my phone just died. Theo and John just made it to Bishkek and they're calling Janela to find them a place to stay and she calls me to ask who is this John because I forgot to tell her that I gave them her number. I go to talk to some guys to ask to charge my phone. Maybe they'll invite me in and I could have lunch. The first ones are just drunks, they just want money for vodka, so I say "Rakhmat, dzakhche hal" (thank you bye bye) and go back to some other house. In the second one live two guys. It's the perfect configuration for not feeling bad as a guest.
Mountain house in Djeti-Oguz
They are lonely and bored, very much like Igor in Bishkek. Their wives are at home in the village and they are the only ones here to take care of the horses and livestock. These two guys probably know each other for ages and they have nothing to say to each other for just as long. They invite me for tea and cook something to eat. For two cowboys living in the red mountains of Djeti-Oguz, these two are open minded, open to other ideas, almost as if they had an education.
We talk about the condition of women in Kyrgyzstan, life in europe, usual stuff.
I could hardly find a more beautiful place to stay. From the relative confort of my home (it gets really freezing cold at night here in the mountains) I could observe a storm raging while the sun sets over the red hills.
Rainbow over the red hills
It is really beautiful and I am sorry I cannot share it with anyone else. And I understand that I have nothing more to do in Karakol. I like the place but the people are more important. What I really want now is to spend some time with Janela. Actually, I have a plan. I want us to hitchhike from Bishkek to Karakol through the red beach, the south side of the lake. We can sleep one night in Tokmok at Almas and one night in Khadzi-Say and see the Fairy tale canyon.

The next day I climb to some 3000 meter peak, it's harder than usual, maybe because my bag is too heavy with the warm clothes from Igor's place, maybe because I got a cold. At the top I get a call from Ayzada, the girl I am supposed to teach english to. She wants to meet with me for the lesson. At last she has time. I tell her in four hours and I run down like crazy down the peak. I want to finish these lessons as fast as I can now so I can go to Bishkek. Plus, Janela might be interrupting his work at the sewing factory so that means a lot of time.

I get a message from Janela which goes a little too far. I can handle dating or whatever we did in Bishkek, some allusions but I still have a panic fear of relationships and a phobia of marriage. And a real relationship with Janela... that would be so complicated that I just don't want to think about it. All these problems and differences, where to begin? Better to run away. But I know that Janela has a way of understanding people, not pushing. She can feel, very fast and very precisely what a person is able to handle and she doesn't try to get over the limit. She has an incredible sense for that. Therefore, it never happens that I run away. It merely happens that I get scared sometimes and then I kind of like her.
Red mountains, view from the peak

I descend 1000 meters of altitude with a 20kg bag in about twenty minutes and no broken bones.
I make it by foot to the border of kurmenty and then catch a ride to the main road with a family who wants to pay me to marry their daughter. She's really ugly for the country's standarts which means she's kind of just under average for european criteria. But thanks, no thanks. It must be really hard to be born with an ugly face in Kyrgyzstan. Even her own family makes fun of her.

I get to Karakol at 7 and I meet at 8 with Ayzada. Night has already fallen. I am surprised that she can even meet me at this hour, from what I saw until now, Kyrgyz traditions don't really allow girls to go out at night, let alone to meet with a stranger. She must have been really motivated to meet me to get through all the taboos of her society. This makes me wonder if she understands this is only an english lesson.
We meet in front on the station of the local militia. When I get there, I call her. She's coming in a minute. Several people on bikes pass me by to check me out, check if I'm alone, this is a james bond operation. A thought crosses my mind, teaching enlish is actually a dangerous profession in this country. Not only you have to worry about how to improve your student's english level, you also have to take into account her 12 brothers (these are big families) with guns who want to kill you beacause they think you want to steal their daughter and also about the daughter who maybe wants to steal you.
She comes at last. Everything is OK, she keeps a distance and she actually expects an english lesson. Good. There is obviously a gap between the text messages I am recieving and her behaviour. This is reassuring for me.
The lesson goes well but in half an hour she has to go because her mother who has been calling her every ten minutes is now going to send the twelve brothers with guns and I don't want to be there to see the fireworks.
Really, in this country, mothers are the worst.

I come back to my apple garden tonight one last time. There is a lock on the door and I have no other solution where to sleep. A police car is patrolling around. Fuck that, nobody throws me out of my apple garden, I climb across the fence, carefully avoiding the police car and slowly put up my tent. I sleep like a baby.
The next day, I am going to Bishkek.