One of the biggest reasons we are excited to be in Kyrgyzstan is to experience the beautiful nature all around us. During the first part of PST we had a chance to go for a short hike (LINK) but that turned out to be more walking in a field then getting into the mountains. As we’re now in phase 2 of PST and have a bit of freedom we were able to get out for a weekend so we headed towards the jailoo (Жайлоо, a high mountain pasture where Kyrgyz families take their animals in summer) above Grigorievka along with Jake, Molly, Mira & Shawn. Shawn & Mira have been here for over a year now and were able to arrange for a taxi from the main road up the rough valley road where we expected to find yurts we could stay in.
We started the drive up one of the worst roads I’ve been on, certainly worse than I’d be willing to brave in the beat-up old station wagon we were sitting in. With four people crammed in the back, three in the front and 6 heavy packs in the car, it sat low, its worn shocks unable to cope with the huge bumps. I could feel the largest of the bumps knock the floorboard beneath my feet up several inches. We took several stops, on each the driver complaining about the road and (I think) the fee we negotiated. On the third stop he agreed for 1500 som (we originally negotiated 1000 som) he would take us a maximum of 3km more. We had few options so we went with and after a bit longer in the car we stopped, unloaded, lifted our packs and started walking.
The weather was pleasant and even though the hike was really walking on a dirt road, the scenery was nice enough to keep things interesting. After a few hours we reached the lake and had lunch and a nap. Around the lake were several yurts. Shawn went to the owners of one to see if space was available and if we could rent it (everything in Kyrgyzstan can be rented for a price.) Not only was it available but we were able to rent the entire yurt out. After agreeing on a price we set our packs down and walked farther up the valley where we knew there was another lake. The second lake turned out to be very nice and lacked the yurts and tourists the first had. We took a little break before heading back for the evening.
After returning to the yurt we purchased some cheap beer and incredibly cheap vodka and sat by the lake for a bit. Our hosts invited us to have tea and a couple people had meals. Most of the other visitors had left, the jailoo was really nice when it’s quiet, it was nice to just sit and chat. As the sun set, our hosts left and we retired to the yurt. Sitting in the yurt with friends I finally felt like ‘this is Peace Corps.’ We made the mistake of leaving the door open and a drunk old man showed up. He was looking for the owners but after seeing we had vodka I don’t think he really cared who was in there, he just wanted to stay. After 15 minutes of trying to convince him to leave (while holding him at the door) Mira thanked him in Kyrgyz for coming and he abruptly left (a method of persuasion to remember for the future.)
The next morning our hosts returned and we settled up on the bill. Not surprisingly, the charges were a little higher than we discussed. There was a cost for the chai we were invited to, the beer was more than they said plus they tacked on a fee for ‘service.’ This happens often here and it’s one of my least favorite parts about being here. Hopefully if I ever figure out how to speak this language I can avoid some of this stuff.
We began the hike out but this time we avoided the road and walked on the other side of the valley. It was much nicer this way, it’s amazing what a difference being off of the road makes even though we were only 200 ft from the route up. We saw a cool bridge across the river so crossed and kept going hoping we’d find another bridge to eventually cross back to the correct side of the river. This turned out to be a dead end which was fine, it felt nice to be out walking. After some time we got close to the road we needed to take to get out of the valley, we were walking quickly to stay ahead of the rain behind us. From here our plan was to ask various cars heading down if we could get a ride to avoid the 15 mile walk out.
We walked down the road for about a mile when we came to an area with people offering honey, horse rides, photos with eagles and food. One person offered to drive us down for 1000 som but I guess this was too expensive so we passed. This seemed to be a good decision since two large trucks soon showed up. They seemed not only capable of handling the road but also empty. Shawn spoke to them and they said they could take us down for free, perfect! We hopped it and headed down the road, only to stop after 3 minutes… I guess they suddenly realized they couldn’t take us after all so back to walking for us. A bit longer we found a spot with food and we were hungry. We sat and ate some delicious salad (maybe we were just hungry) and looked at a marshrutka sitting across from us. After we ate we asked about it, not only was the owner there but they were getting ready to head down. For just 500som we got to enjoy this ride:
After getting back down we went our separate ways. Jake, Taylor and I caught a marshrutka (despite the obnoxious taxi drivers’ insistence that no such marshrutka existed.) Not everything went smoothly (but nothing here does) but it was awesome to spend a night out with friends. We ended up hiking/walking 17 miles over the two days and it was pretty easy since it was flat. Here’s a map of where we hiked: