Danko Photo Club Update

Final group shot

I previously wrote about my new Photo Club I’ve started at Danko and I wanted to talk a little bit more about how it’s been going.  We’ve held 7 classes so far and just did our first field trip.  Attempting to teach a technical topic in a foreign language is incredibly challenging to say the least but my students are patient and some know enough English to help me translate.  The biggest challenge at my last attempt at a photo club was attendance and it’s still a bit of a challenge but I’m averaging 9 students or so out of 12 at each class, having cameras and computers to play with definitely keeps their attention. I’ve been teaching basic concepts like the ‘Rule of 1/3s’ and ‘Leading Lines’ but mostly we walk around Balykchy taking photos while I give them pointers along the way.

Are first field trip (of 4 total) was last Saturday to Bishkek.  The capital city is only 2 hours away yet the students rarely get to visit.  Most go once a year or so and two of my students had never been.  They really enjoyed walking around the city and I was able to show them many things they had no idea existed in their country.  It was also really hot so of course they ate ice cream, lots of it.  Below are some photos from the field trip.  Scroll down for photos from my students.

Here is a gallery of photos by various students.  I’ll leave their names off for now but I’ll share a gallery of their credited work this fall when we prepare for an exhibition.

Ala Archa National Park – (nearly) Climbing Peak Uchitel

We recently took a trip back to Ala Archa, our first time since going last year during PST.  The previous trip was easy to arrange as our host family owned a marshrutka and a group of us just hired them to take us up for the day.  This trip we had to find a taxi on our own which is a pain even when we speak the language.  After too many phone calls and conversations at the bus station, we negotiated a ride, picked up our friends and drove to Ala Archa.  Of course upon arrival the driver showed us an ‘official’ price list that said the price was nearly double what we agreed to and he seemed to forget our previous conversation.  Too bad guy, we’re not falling for that… we gave him the agreed upon fare and headed into the park.

The hike up to the hut was a little less pleasant that our previous trip.  Between the persistent mist that soaked everything and our heavy packs, things were a little less than ideal.  There was also a bit of snow to deal with than our last trip which was at the end of August.  After a few hours of hiking we neared the hut, the clouds parted and we got a glimpse of the towering peaks that make Ala Archa so special.  We set up the tents and settled into one of the kitchen huts (which you have access to if paying for a tent site or spot in the Ratsek Hut) to make dinner.

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Holidays in Kyrgyzstan

Holidays abroad are pretty unique experiences.  Other than one Christmas in Europe I’ve always been home for the major holidays.  The holidays are definitely the hardest time to be away.  The weather in Kyrgyzstan gets cold, the days short and not much sounds better than a Thanksgiving turkey or Christmas ham about now.  Luckily most volunteers here live relatively close to others and for Thanksgiving all the Issyk-Kul volunteers (plus a few guests) came together in Karakol for a little American-style Thanksgiving.

Anna wrangling our dinner.  She's a pro.
Anna wrangling our dinner. She’s a pro.

We started out by going to the bazaar and finding a live turkey to slaughter for dinner the next day.  We bought the biggest guy we could find and after the vendor bagged him (easier than expected, turkeys calm down when you hang them upside down we learned) we took him in the marshrutka back to the apartment.  A bunch of Americans carrying a live turkey onto the marshrutka attracted quite a few looks… Then, the volunteers in town a day early came over to the apartment we were staying at for dinner.  Duck, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie… Delicious. Continue reading “Holidays in Kyrgyzstan”

Almaty, Kazakhstan has a Burger King

When Taylor and I applied to Peace Corps, our number one goal was to visit a part of the world we’d likely otherwise never get a chance to see and Kyrgyzstan absolutely fits that bill.  Stuck right in the middle of the ‘stans, an unlikely vacation destination for most Americans, we’re determined to visit as many of them as we can.  The most convenient to visit is Kazakhstan – not only is it only an hour from Bishkek but Peace Corps supplies us with visas making it an easy trip.

I knew little of Kazakhstan before arriving.  Aside from being the setting for ‘Borat’, I knew it had a space program and those two pieces of info didn’t seem to go together.  After arriving here I heard tales from the previous volunteers of the wonders of Almaty.  Modern, clean, it even had a Burger King, everyone who had been said we needed to visit.  Our site-mate Jake picked a weekend and 6 of us made the trip to Bishkek to get ready for an early morning departure to Almaty.

Our first food stop was for Vietnamese food
Our first food stop was for Vietnamese food

In the morning we met at the bus station and found an Almaty-bound taxi driver who lured us in with promises of non-stop Shakira music videos during the ride (he delivered.)  It doesn’t take long to make it to the border and we were prepared for the hectic experience we read about while researching on wikitravel.com.  What we found was a smooth, friendly border crossing and we had no problems crossing.  In less than 30 minutes we were in Kazakhstan and soon enough our driver came and we took off.  It turned out we found the slowest taxi driver in Kazakhstan but eventually we made it to the city.  Almaty was not Bishkek.  Modern buildings, clean streets, trams and even a subway.  Our first task was to make it to the other edge of town and meet up with the owner of an apartment we found to rent for a couple nights.  After dropping off our bags we walked out to find some food.  Avoiding the temptation to find a traditional Kazakh café (it’s more or less identical to Kyrgyz food) we found a Vietnamese restaurant which was great.  It was hardly authentic Vietnamese but these were flavors I haven’t had for 7 months, it was perfect.  In the evening we went to a Chinese restaurant (it was a mistake) and then the grocery store where we became overwhelmed by the 100s of beers to choose from (the store by our house has about 4.)

 

The beer selection in Almaty is slightly better than Kyrgyzstan
The beer selection in Almaty is slightly better than Kyrgyzstan

The next day we wanted to walk around and see the city.  First, we took the subway to the other side of town.  The subway is the newest in the world and it felt strange to be in something so modern and clean.  Walking through the city it felt strange.  Kind of like Vancouver, BC but still Central Asian.  After a bit we realized besides the cleanliness, the absence of marshrutkas pulling over everywhere and clogging up roads made the city so much calmer and more pleasant.  We stopped for a lunch at Burger King (so good) and then back to the apartment to get warmer clothes to head out of the city. Continue reading “Almaty, Kazakhstan has a Burger King”

Jeti-Oguz Weekend

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.

Our yurt for the weekend
Our yurt for the weekend

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.

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