Sunday, November 10, 2013

In the middle of nowhere

If you follow the main road from Naryn in the west direction,you'll arrive to Osh eventually. But before you arrive to Osh, you pass a high and snowy mountain range. At the end of this mountain range is the city of Kazarman. It is completly surrounded by mountains and inacessible unless you're ready to give it a whole lot of effort. West of Kazarman there is an even bigger mountain range and the road going from it is the most surprising, beautiful but also the most dangerous road in Kyrgyzstan. It goes way over 3000 meters and people die on it every winter.

Theo and John went through this way by bicycle and told me wonders. And I am going there now. The first ride I get is to Baetov, a city at the beginning of the first mountain range. Two young guys with sheep in the truck take me there. They buy me some dinner including a bug chunk of cold fat sheep meat. This is still the Naryn province. However I am not hosted anywhere so I sleep in a tent again. I am only 1500 meter high, so it doesn't get that cold at night.
I am just woke up at midnight by a guy who discovered my tent not far from his house and wants to host me but I'm too lazy to move my tent.

In the morning it starts snowing. I manage to pack my tent before the snow gets too intense. I want to continue west, direction of Osh but I get an unfortunate information; the road is closed by snow, nobody will go there. I don't mind but the problem with hitchhiking is that you have to be at least two to be stupid: the hitchhiker and the driver.
There is another road that goes to Osh, also through Kazarman, I have to get back a few kilometers and take it. People say it is open. It's a dirt road with absolutly nobody on it. I start walking on it. One car goes there, one car stops. It is a big truck transporting provisions to the city. The conversation repeats itself.
"Where are you going?"
"Kazarman."
"How much will you give?"
"Nothing"
"I'm the only car on the road, you'll freeze and wolves will eat you"
"If such is my fate"
"Get in you idiot!"

So I get a ride all 70 kilometers to Kazarman. The mountain path is high and impressive, there is nobody going our way. It starts snowing again, the road is white, the sky also, the mountains too. We see cars going the opposite way.
"They are taxis going to Bishkek," says our driver. There is no bus going from Kazarman to the capital, the road is too hard. The only way to get there is by special taxi. By special taxi I don't mean a special car but a special driver suicidal enough to try this road in a normal car. In europe, they would probably use a helicopter. Some of these special taxis break down on the road.
We are pretty safe in our powerful truck. A car is waiting in the snow, a family comes out, they are signaling us to stop. The parents give us their three freezing daughters to take care of and we continue our way.
It takes us 5 hours to get to Kazarman.

"The road" to Osh is closed, the people say. The driver's son calls his friend, he can host me. His friend's name is Adlet and he gives me the impression of a very kind and incredibly naive person. He is 21 and I 26 so calls me "uncle Filip" and he adresses me with respect. When I tell him to drop the act, he tells me that he can't, respecting the elder is so deep in his education that not doing it makes him really uncomfortable.
He helps me with everything, he even zips up my jacket which is kind of weird.
They make a lot of manti; my last days in Kyrgyzstan are marked by my favourite dish.
Adlet gives me some "gamashe", a pair of pants to put under my pants not to be cold. It's a prescious gift.
The whole evening he and his family are trying to convince me not to take the road to Osh.
"Don't go there uncle Filip, please. You will die. If wolves don't eat you, you will freeze to death"
I tell them that I want to see, at least, if somebody is going there. Maybe I'll get a super-styled jeep like to Son-kol.

Adlet and his family let me go with worried looks at their faces. I leave for Aral, the only village west of Kazarman and the last bit of civilisation before the Osh region.
I get to the village with two guys who don't understand how I can get anywhere without money.
"The road is closed. You'll die there.," they say instead of goodbye.

I can't make a hunderer meters without meeting worried looks and people telling me that I am going to die. I start seeing a pattern there and I am thinking about actually not going to Osh. I want to try to have a relationship with Janela my fairy before I do something stupid.
But I want to try to find my jeep. I make the last kilometers of my way with a guy on a horse who is fascinated with my story and tells me that I am going to die but that he doesn't think that I am so stupid anymore.

I get a lift to the last intersectio but then my car is goint left to a nearby village and I just wait. The road is empty and quiet. There isn't much snow on it anyway but the snowy part is supposed to be 17 kilometers away and that's probably a point of no return.
Slowly I pack my things with the intention of getting back to Bishkek, there were enough adventures for today and I have to get my chinese visa.

The problem is Kazarman is a little bit like Son-Kol. It is difficult to get in and it is difficut to get out. All cars are leaving before 11AM to make it through the mountain pass and all these cars are taxis so they are no use anyway. A taxi from Kazarman to Bishkek costs 1200 som ($24), way over my budget which is zero.
It is already 12AM and I am returning to the village. A lot of people want to say hello to me because not many tourists come in the winter. I go pass them as fast as I can, no time to lose until I hear english. By english I mean real english, not the "hello me name Adlet what is your job?" type of english.
Her name is Gulzar and she is the vice-director of a school. She's 29 and is also an english teacher. Her english is about the level of a french high school student but it is outstanding for Kyrgyzstan. She wants to invite me home and I'm curious so I go. She lives there with her sister, her husband died two years ago and her sister's husband is god know where.
She likes me a bit too much actually. She takes me to school and tells her collegues that I am her boyfriend she met through the internet. I represent a kind of prize for her, she wants to show off with me. I think it is funny at first but then it makes me feel a bit unconfortable.
I tell her that I did volunteer work in Karakol and Bishkek and she wants me to teach her classes. I get grade 5 and 6, english class.
The children are very polite, they stand when I ask them a question and they don't make a noise. They really deploy a lot of effort into replying to my questions.
I ask them stuff like "what is your name?", "how many brothers and sisters do you have?", "how old are you?" and that's about it but it's a very good start.
Gulzar is very happy and takes a lot of pictures of the event. She then invites me to a show of disabled people. There are a lot of them because there is a mine in Kazarman with a lot of uranium everywhere, the place is probably worse off than japanese Fukushima except nobody bothers with the radiation readings.

Gulzar has to go somewhere, she leaves me the house for a few hours, I can eat whatever I want and she has a lot of honey and ayran, the kyrgyz yoghurt.
I also go to sleep at a reasonable time because there are only women in the house and they don't drink vodka.
I leave the village with Gulzar telling me "Don't forget me." Weird feeling.
I get a ride with to Kazarman with some people who forget that I am not paying them anything but I don't pay anything anyway. It is already 1:30 PM and there isn't a single car on the road east of Kazarman. Everything has already left in the morning. I manage to stop an old car, jigul lada transporting gasoline. It is driven by two happy guys who had a little too much to drink.
There is no space so I have to sit on the front seat, next to one of the guys.

"Don't be afraid," says the driver, "we are a bit drunk but we are not dangerous"
I tell them that I am not afraid, I am happy to get a lift.
They offer me a bottle of disgusting bozo which contains more of their saliva than the actual drink. They also have some bread, I take that.
After a while we make a stop for vodka.
They drink half a bottle in two people, I don't drink.
"Do you know why we drink," asks my seat mate, his name is Anameldin.
"No, tell me"
"It's because of the radiation... you know! There is radiation in the city, we drink vodka to help to live with the radiatioooon. And the roads... the bad roads... it shakes the car, it's difficult to drive. Vodka also helps, the car feels stable."
It really takes a lot of vodka to feel stable with this soviet-era car on a mountain road but then again, they drink a lot.
The car breaks down and it will keep breaking down every 5 kilometers. So between vodka stops we also have car repair stops. Car repairs consist of pouring water randomly over the overheated engine and then pushing the car backwards.
"Are you sure you will be able to drive after finishing that bottle?" I ask the driver.
"Don't worry man! I have an alcohol tolerence built over a whole lifetime."
He seems to know what he is doing, he is a rare good kind of drunk. He is constantly apoligising about his drinking behaviour and respecting the fact that I don't drink. He is worrying that I would be afraid because they are drunks but I don't see why. I have seen dangerous drunks, I feel completly safe with these two.
They are going a total of 40 kilometers to Dodomul, the first eastern village. We arrive in the late afternoon to the house of Anameldin's parents. It has only one heated room with a floor made of wood instead of mud and and only heated room also. It has no running water, no surprise there (even homes in the city don't have it) and it also doesn't have electricity. It is just a heated cabin.
They have a lot of milk products and they drink Ayran instead of tea, it's super tasty. Only unfortunate thing, they don't let me put jam inside my Ayran.
The men all drink vodka except me and they are starting to have a serious concentration in their blood. Especially Alameldin who now has trouble standing up.
"We cannot leave you here says the driver," it will be dark soon and it's too dangerous. "I will find you a place to stay in a family."
He invites me to a family to which he sells gas to. Kazarman is already a very remote city and this village is remote even by Kazarman's standarts. They don't have buses connecting them to civilisation, they don't have gas except what these two drunks bring them every week. They live on a high plateau in the mountains in very harsh conditions.
But I am pretty confortable there. The men speak russian and the women only Kyrgyz. When I put my tablet out to show them some pictures, nobody even looks at them. Their eyes are captivated by the strange device that I have just opened. They have never seen anything like this before. Phones are common,  smartphones are not rare either and if you search long enough you can find someone with a laptop computer but a tablet with a removable keyboard... never. I feel like an alien descended from the skies. One of the men takes my tablet and starts browsing through all my pictures. He doesn't really care about my trip.
"Devushky goluiy?" (Naked girls?), he asks with a retarded look at his face. He doesn't even speak russian properly. He looks like a little chieftain of a local group of assholes. He wants to browse through some pictures of Janela, I really feel bad about that, like he is stepping into my intimate zone. I take the computer from him. He has a retarded and surprised look on his face, he laughs stupidly.
"Have a little respect, she's my girlfriend!"
"She russian?"
"No Kyrgyz. Don't you see the slanty eyes, does she look russian to you?"
"She your translator"
"My girlfriend. Kyrgyz from Karakol. We are marrying next year." The latter is not true but this guy gets on my nerves.
"Hey everyone! This foreigner is going to marry a russian girl!" He yells in Kyrgyz and drinks a bottle of vodka for the occasion.
After a while my drivers also join us. They are seriously drunk now. My driver is happy and Anameldin just fall in front of the table into a pile of bread and Jam.
"Dooont driiink vooodka Filip it is baaad for you," says Anameldin.
"Calm down Anam," says the driver. And they drink and drink even more. They start singing songs in a very loud voice.
"I am still taking the car down to Kazarman," says my driver with a sure voice, "it has never betrayed me."
Anameldin is now sleeping on the couch, he is feeling sick.
"Mooooother, mooother!," he screams.
"Come on Anam, try to sleep!" says the driver.
They take the road after fifteen more minutes, completly drunk and in the dark of the night. I stay to sleep at their friends house in Dodomul.
The next day I start hitching at 9 in the morning. No car on the road. Only a guy who wants to take me for an insane amount of money and a huge truck that is being loaded. I run to the truck.
"Where are you going?"
"Naryn"
"How much will you give"
"Nothing"
"You'll die there, wolves will eat you, we're the only car on the road"
"If such is my fate..."
"Get in you idiot!"
And that is how I get a lift from the middle of nowhere to my friend's Nurbolot appartment in Bishkek. But not after being invited to a giant breakfest, to a restaurant and being given huge amounts of borzok
.