Oh, how good the idea of a hike sounded on Friday. This is why we were so excited so be in Kyrgyzstan right? The mountains, the grazing horse and sheep, the fresh air and clean water… I forgot all about that Sunday morning when the alarm went off way too early. I was not expecting the hangover but this is a consequence of never having water on the dinner table while drinking vodka with your family. I laid in bed and considered the options. I wanted to hike but I felt bad. And it would be hot, so hot. And dusty, it’s always hot and dusty it seems…. But, this is why we came, so we got out of bed and rushed out the door without breakfast (or coffee) and ran to meet the group.
After a quick Marshrutka ride to Kant we took our first taxi ride to the small village of International which is about a 15 minute drive towards the mountains. As with most things in Kyrgyzstan, it was not uneventful and the girls were soon singing along to Backstreet Boys coming from the driver’s radio while he invited me over to come guesting and have vodka (it was 8am.) I declined the invite, the drive dodged more potholes and shortly we were in International with the rest of the group. Our guide was Brian, a PC volunteer about to extend for a third year. Also joining us were two host brothers (with excellent English skills taught by Brian.) We headed off on foot through a field and towards the hills.
I wasn’t sure of our eventual destination and I couldn’t see a trail anywhere on the hills in front of us. We passed a lone horse, a couple commentaries and grazing sheep. It was every bit as hot as I expected but I was glad we came. It was a good opportunity to get to know our fellow trainees without the pressure of learning Kyrgyz or taking in all the information PC was giving to us each day. As the group climbed I realized I wasn’t just missing the trail, there wasn’t one. We followed a hint of trail we found, perhaps a track worn by sheep or years of shepherds’ steps. The hill was steep and we took advantage of every level spot to take a break.
Eventually we reached a summit of sorts and took a seat. After a group photo (worth carrying a 3lb tripod for one photo) we took stock of the group while pondering whether to go on. We had made it this far so we decided to press on to the nearest higher peak we saw. We skirted the edge of a steep drop-off and fought through tall spider-web filled brush before finally arriving at the peak. The haze from Bishkek clouded the snow-capped peaks in front of us, my head still hurt and we all likely had poisonous spiders hiding in our hair or fold of our clothing. But all I could think of were the future adventures we had in store. Would I have the opportunity to explore the mountains in front of me that make up Ala Archa National Park? Would I stay in a yurt, drink kumiz or be able to hold a conversation in Kyrgyz? I don’t know what lies ahead, I don’t even know where I’ll be living in 5 weeks. But I got a taste of what is out there and I can’t wait to see the rest.