Sunday, February 16, 2014

One Night in Central Asia...

When travelling, you experience many things. Highs and Lows, adventure, challenges, places and situations that you planned, hoped to make, and then sometimes, there's that experience where you wonder just exactly how you managed to get there. And you consider maybe it's just a weird sort of dream.
The shack.

I've been working on and am now editing the next 'Short Journeys' - this one is a double feature on Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and I came to writing about the absolutely stunningly beautiful Altyn Arashan in North-Western Kyrgyzstan. Sure, maybe you're going to find that a hard one to find on a map, it's really just a little valley amongst some mountains with a few shacks and yurts, a river and hot springs and not much else. Heck, there's no electricity. However, it's a pretty special place. And the afternoon and evening I spent there was memorable.
The legendary Valentine

The man who owns and runs 'Yak Tours' is a Russian gentleman (and yes I think he is) called Valentine. He organised a jeep up to Altyn Arashan and I would hike back to the nearest town Karakol the next day. The jeep ride itself was an adventure as we had to stop to refill the radiator and then a hill was too slippery for the jeep so I and a the other two passengers had to push it up the hill.
Helping out with some wood chopping.

I stayed in the 'Yak Tours' shack. A two story ramshackle house that had seen better days and was the largest structure up in the valley. A car battery provided very minimal lighting and the toilet was... outside. Wherever you could find a spot. The shower was... the river. But heck, it was grand!

Then some friends of Valentine's arrived. A whole group in a sort of army truck thing and they took over the place. I joined in as best I could with my two words of Russian and none of Kyrgyz. The food was shashliks. Lots of them. Very popular in the region along with plov, a rice dish. And vodka. Lots and lots of vodka. And toasts as well, the toasting didn't stop. Even I made a toast, none of which I can remember. There were a few kids there, one 11 year old boy was the only one bar Valentine who spoke English.

Later in the evening one guy brought out proper army-grade night vision goggles! That was something too. Eventually the night came to a close. It was a remarkable 12 hours or so. I'm still not sure how I got there, I do remember the hike back to Karakol the next day wasn't so easy though, it was around 20km but I accepted a lift with 2-3km to go...

Have you ever had a similar experience? This is the sort of thing that happens in ex-USSR countries sometimes. Great hospitality - I was the only foreigner at the shack. They took me happily under their wings. The ebook is coming soon before the end of February. Stay tuned!
The morning after inside the shack.

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