Hey! Hi! SUP. Yo. You’re reading about a trip that took place 6 months ago (May – June 2015), which means that I am sadly no longer in Central Asia. However, that trip was awesome enough that I feel compelled to write about it in a series of blog posts, because it’s unsurprisingly … kind of difficult to talk about three different countries’ worth of text and photos and consolidate that sucker into one blog entry. Also, I’m likely a) nostalgic, b) itching to travel again, c) guilty about having so many orphaned photos on my HD, or d) all of the above. Anyway, let’s do this, before I start getting random plov cravings.
Also, larger versions of all the photos can be found in my Kyrgyzstan photoset.
Yo, listen. Before I descend into gratuitous wordvom about the awesomeness of my Kyrgyzstan leg of the trip, I’m going to cut to the chase and give you the key takeaway:
I CAMPED IN A YURT.
Awwwww yeah, das right. I was in a yurt, and it was every bit as awesome as it sounds. I love camping in the traditional “let’s camp out in the woods!” sense, but goddamn if it isn’t annoying to pitch a tent every time. Plus, given the choice between a flimsily-built tent in the middle of the woods and A MOTHERFUCKING YURT SURROUNDED BY MOUNTAINS IN KYRGYZSTAN, it’s pretty obvious which one’s the superior choice.
Okay, micdrop done.
Anyway! For those wanting to travel to Central Asia like that bitchin’ landscape above, Kyrgyzstan’s a solid gateway into the area. In most cases, you can easily get a visa on arrival, because the entrance requirements in Kyrgyzstan have the most chill compared to all the other -stans.
I arrived into Kyrgyzstan via marshrutka, from good ol’ Almaty into Bishkek. Marshrutkas are shared taxicabs, but unlike Lyft Line or Uberpool, they’re older vans and the route is pretty fixed, seeing as it doesn’t get more straightforward than Almaty → Bishkek. Overall, it took about 3 hours, though there was no way I was keeping track, having been jetlagged to the ends of the earth and running on a grand total of one cup of coffee. In all my sleep deprivation, I vaguely remember getting dropped off at the Kazakhstan exit border, communicating back and forth between Rebekah and the border guard about my passport, and having to repeat the same process as we crossed the no-man’s land and officially entered Krygzystan. I also remember drizzle and rain, which is irrelevant in the big picture, but seemed kinda relevant at the time, as we were trying to locate our marshrutka and not look like drowned rats.
Some small amount of paperwork later and another taxi ride to Rebekah’s place, and we were settled in Bishkek! Huzzah!
Bishkek is a solid square one for a Central Asian trip. It’s a relatively new city, with a mixture of Soviet brutalist architecture and tree-lined boulevards and bazaars (the first of many) and the walkability of a small town. One of our first stops was Osh Bazaar, one of the larger marketplaces where you can buy every local product under the sun.
There are the safe bets, like nuts and dried fruit (highly recommended, by the way!) —
— and then there are the more adventurous options, such as kurut.
It’s safe to say that kurut is an acquired taste, because if you can imagine a white gumball-sized chalk-textured sphere of cheese that tastes like solidified expired yogurt with a slightly dairy aftertaste, then you can guess that this is not one of those love-at-first-taste foods. Luckily, I had a pack of Tic-Tacs that we all desperately needed after we each downed one ball like it was a shotglass. You can tell that I’m really selling this.
Safe to say, I stuck with the almonds after that — and pistachios, like Exhibit A below:
Touted as the “best ice cream in Central Asia”, Fresco is an ice cream truck situated a few blocks away from Dubovy Oak Park. The ice cream has a gelato-esque consistency but they use local ingredients, such as this awesome pistachio flavor.
For a bit of Americana out here, there’s the Obama Bar & Grill, a recent establishment named after good ol’ Barack and furnished with various Obama paraphernalia. Fun fact: there was, indeed, a Putin Pub just across the street, but by the time I had arrived, they had already been shuttered for months (at the behest of the Russian authorities, I hear).
Ala-Too Square, the centerpiece of the Bishkek city proper:
And just so we have the obligatory food shot, this here is lagman (derived from the Chinese 拉面 / la mian — sound familiar?) from Chaikhana Jalal-Abad. Think thick, hand-pulled noodles topped with chopped peppers and a sauce of equal parts spicy and salty. Carb heaven, pretty much.
Also, the yurt is getting its own post because it was that freaking cool.