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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.