JA–>CA: On the Road

This post’s a little late, but only because I was saving a big moment for this week’s theme: On the Road. On Monday I moved from Jalal-Abad alllllll the way to Cholpon-Ata, a resort town on the coast of Issyk-Kul (Hot Lake, if you will). It’s unconventional to move like this, but a lot of factors went into the decision-making process, and I can genuinely say that I am thrilled to be spending the next year of my service here.

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For a journey involving so many pitstops, I anticipated a lot of trouble – fortunately for me, the trip was smooth and I made it to Cholpon-Ata with all my bags and my sanity.

Compared to packing to come to Kyrgyzstan a year ago, I was really lazy this time around… I didn’t start packing until the night before leaving, whereas last April I took several weeks to collect and organize my stuff. Everything got shoved into two MASSIVE bazaar bags and a box that once held a care package. Kamardin, a dear friend and my sitemate’s counterpart, organized a taxi to pick me up at my house and go straight to the Osh airport. The driver was a little chatty for 7:30 in the morning, but he was very sweet and helped me get my bags through the first security check at the airport. The airport only charged me 1200 som ($16) for 60 kilograms (132 pounds) of overweight luggage (learn a lesson, US airlines). I even had a few minutes to watch some Walking Dead before boarding the flight.

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It was one of the fastest flights I’ve been on in Kyrgyzstan: 30 minutes from Osh to Bishkek. A lady tried to take one of my bags as her own, but I convinced her to give it back to me before shoving everything into a taxi downtown. The driver miraculously knew how to get to the Peace Corps office, which is tucked away in a hard-to-get-to corner of the city. I stopped there to pick up some paperwork and thank the staff for their help in the move before setting off on the final leg of the trip.

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Taxis to Cholpon-Ata sit right in front of the avtovokzal (bus station), and it wasn’t hard at all to find a car big enough to hold my stuff. Two taxi drivers shoved all my bags and boxes into the back seat, where I crawled in to prepare for the 4-hour drive. A Kyrgyz woman asked me several times during the trip to tutor her granddaughter; I fell asleep to avoid her questioning. I woke up just as we were leaving Chui Oblast for Issyk-Kul Oblast, where the mountains form these huge walls around the main road. At this point in spring, shepherds are taking their animals to jailoo (summer pasture), so the car I was in had to stop several times for herds of sheep, goats, and cows to cross the road.

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The lake appears suddenly from the mountains, and the view of the bright blue against the white of the mountains and clouds is stunning. I hope I’ll never get tired of that view. Cholpon-Ata’s at about the halfway point between Balykchy and Karakol on the lake’s north shore; it took an hour and a half or so to get there once the lake was visible.

I got dropped on the side of the road between a movie theater and the bus station. It wasn’t long until my host dad drove up, my host sister in the front seat with a cake on her lap and my counterpart and host aunt in the backseat, to bring me home. It’s cooler here than in Jalal-Abad, but I don’t even care because this means I get to watch the trees bloom in bright pink and white twice. There are two chickens in the yard, my 13-year old host sister is thrilled to show me her komuz (stringed instrument), and I can see the lake from my bedroom window.

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In all, the journey took 10 hours – not exactly quick, but it’s nothing compared to what I’ve read other Peace Corps volunteers travel to get around their countries. I’m almost disappointed that the road wasn’t more dramatic; it would have made for a more interesting post. Another time, I guess, will be right for some insights on the madness of Bishkek marshrutkas or overstuffed taxis. For now, I’m just glad this trip went so smoothly, and I’ll take it as a sign of the next year to come.

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