Another fun weekend adventure! This time we were headed to Jeti-Oguz (means ‘7 bulls’) for a little trip organized by our friend AJ and his organization, Eco-Trek. They had asked us to help them with a couple things including documenting the accommodations and a couple hikes with photos and GPS tracks. We were helping them put together some packages to give to their clients to offer a better product. In exchange, they put us up in their yurt camp and arranged for the transport out there.
We head out from Balykchy and stopped by Cholpon Ata to watch some of the World Nomad Games. It was pretty fun and really an impressive event for Kyrgyzstan, a couple dozen countries were there participating including the US with 5 PCVs forming a Kokuz Torgol team (a strategy game similar to mancala.) We weren’t there long and some other PCVs wrote about it more, you can read Shaun or Anna’s blogs to here more about the event. Also, here is a short video showing the opening ceremonies.
After the horse games we went to Karakol and stayed with AJ. The next morning we walked with him to his office and his director drove us up to his yurt camp in Jeti-Oguz. We didn’t really have an idea of what to expect as things here tend to be a little (a lot really) less consistent than we’re used to at home but this just lends to the adventure. The drive became very beautiful as we headed up towards the mountains, passing the small village of Jeti-Oguz before the road cut through a scenic, narrow river gorge. As the road opened up into a large valley we saw many other yurt camps, this is a very popular destination for both local and foreign tourists. Arriving at the yurt camp, we were given a brief tour of our very nice yurt (with the best looking bed I’ve seen in a yurt yet and power!) as well as the toilet (not an outhouse) and shower… yep, this would do. We unpacked our bags and took a look at my map to figure out where to head. The GPS showed a waterfall nearby so we followed the road that direction. After a bit of confusion we found the correct cow path that represented the trail we were supposed to follow. Heading up the fill the cow path turned into a real trail and we began passing Russian tourists and Kyrgyz people picking juniper (the branches do all kinds of magic but you can’t have a juniper tree on your property as it will sap the life from your family.
Some people have asked where we live, what our permanent site actually looks like. Before I get into that, let me introduce you to a term… ‘Posh Corps.’ Dirt floors, laundry by hand and having to go fetch water from the river to drink are things people think of as the norm for us volunteers. People often think this term is a derogatory term used by people who want the ‘real’ PC experience where you are roughing it towards those volunteers who have some modern conveniences. As it turns out, our permanent site fits none of those stereotypical images and I’ve since come to realize that ‘Posh Corps’ is a phrase born out of jealousy. I’ve done laundry by hand here… it sucks. So here it is, a tour of our fairly posh, Peace Corps home.
As previously mentioned, our home is in Balykchy, a city on the Western edge of Issyk Kul, a huge alpine lake. Our home is closed by a large fence on all sides like most in Kyrgyzstan, especially common in cities. Inside the gates there are some differences between most of the homes I’ve been in and ours. Our property is mostly finished with clean concrete walkways separating grassy areas with fruit-bearing trees (cherry, apple, pear and apricots,) generally homes are surrounded mostly by dirt. It’s a pretty large plot for a city with a driveway on either side. The main house is 3 or 4 bedrooms, depending on how you define them, and several living areas. There is a separate apartment attached that goes unused now but a previous volunteer lived there.
We’ve been sharing some posts from some fun events we’ve had but haven’t shared much about what our day-to-day life has been like here lately. For all of August we were stuck back at our training villages for the last part (Phase 3) of Pre-Service Training. While it was great seeing everyone it was really hot nearly every day (90+ often and the training center does not have AC) and the days seemed to crawl by. Plus, we were missing the best month to be back in Issyk Kul where every day the weather is perfect and the beach is just a five minute walk away. Besides being able to see the whole group back together (minus our one fellow volunteer who went home) we had some fun adventures. We invited 10 other volunteers to Ala Archa (blog post here,) had an amazing weekend in Bishkek, bought mountain bikes, held the first annual Issyk-Ata Regatta, cooked American food, explored an abandoned apartment and perhaps best of all, took the ‘Balykchy Express’ to get back to Krasnaya Rechka. We’ll write up some info on the world-famous Balykchy Express slow train that runs from Bishkek to Balykchy later but read on for more photos and stories from our other adventures the past month…
Being back in Krasnaya Rechka was fun even though training wasn’t because the kids are so much fun to play with. We spent many nights playing Frisbee and surprised them with a Frisbee of their own that Taylor’s mom sent from America (thanks Cindy!) There’s a big difference between the village kids in Krasnaya Rechka and the city kids in Balykchy. The village kids all know who we are and scream our names when they see us even if they are on the other side of the school yard. Much like cities at home, you lose a bit of the ‘neighborhood feel’ in cities here which has its pros and cons. Our language still seems terrible to us but we were able to talk a lot more with our PST family and learn things like how they met, when they moved to their house, where they originated from, etc. We also tried to cook more American food for them, not only to share American culture but frankly, we’re craving a lot of food from home. We made pizza and had to resort to using pre-made frozen crusts we found. They tasted as good as a frozen pizza from the grocery store but we had fresh ingredients and the kids loved it. Taylor also went with some of the other PCV girls and made apple pies. She said they were delicious but forgot to bring a slice home for Eric so things are a bit rocky between us, тамаша (that means kidding!)
Now that the first week of school is officially underway, I figured I’d try to get my post about summer camp up. I attended the Girls Leading our World (GLOW) camp in mid-July. Here’s how it went:
The week started with some confusion around who was supposed to arrange the transportation and where I was supposed to meet up with my counterpart and the girls (an experience that almost brought me to tears), but by the end of the experience, Gulum and I got to know each other better, I met 10 awesome girls from Balykchy that I will be able to host a health club with, and my name has appeared in Balykchy’s local newspaper. Here’s the full story (skipping that first mixup):
We – me, Gulum, Jake (the English teacher volunteer from Balykchy), Jake’s counterpart, Kyal, and ten girls from Balykchy (with some random ride alongs along the way…) – took a marshrutka along the south shore of Lake Issyk Kul to a camp facility near Barscone. It was the first time I’d seen this side of the lake since we usually travel east along the north shore. It was interesting to see how much less populated this side was. There were wide gaps between towns and beautiful views of the mountains and some hoodoo looking formations as well.
When we arrived, the camp coordinators (other Peace Corps volunteers Kelly and Mira) were there to greet us. The girls registered – which was helpful in getting to know their names – and then headed to their cabins, where they would meet other girls from around the Issyk Kul oblast. As I understand it, the girls don’t often have the chance to meet peers from villages other than their own so this was an experience of a lifetime for some of them.
Since the first part of Pre-Service Training (PST) we’ve been planning a trip to Ala Archa National Park. Ala Archa is an alpine National Park, just South of Bishkek. Phase three of PST has miserably hot most days and a trip to the cool weather in the mountains was coming at a great time. Early last Sunday, 12 of us plus our brother and sister piled into the family marshrutka early in the morning and our host dad drove us up to the park.
Ala Archa has two main trails. The first is relatively flat and follows the main river up the valley. We opted for the trail to the left which climbs a steep valley, past a waterfall and ends at a climbing hut where several glaciers meet. The hike started up a steep hill and as soon as we reached the top the views were awesome. To the North-East, 15 miles of the Ala-Archa river valley could be seen and in front of us the large waterfall and beyond that, the valley where Racek hut, our destination, was visible.
After traversing the side of the valley for about a mile and a half we stopped for lunch before tackling a steep section that took us past the waterfall. Here, the trail winds through the Juniper Trees that give the park its name and is incredibly scenic. Across the valley we could see a herd of ibex(s?) scaling the steep slope. I’d seen many statues of ibex across the country and it was pretty awesome seeing them in person. Even though they were several hundred meters away, it was easy to make out their huge antlers.