Balykchy Travel Blog

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People i met here who contributed to and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Sasha (Kyrgyzstan)


Having come down from Altyn Arashan, we made a brief stop in Karakol to collect our bags, eat some lunch and burn some CD's in the friendly Information Centre. A marshrutka took us to the bus terminal, where we caught a minivan to the town of Balykchy (140 Som / $3.90), located on the far Western tip of Issyk Kul Lake. It took three and a half hours to circumnavigate the lake and we arrived at 21.00, just as it was becoming dark.


There were a group of taxi sharks hovering around the bus station and they tried to charge us 900 Som ($25) for the one hour journey to Kochkor, which we politely declined and instead went in search of a hotel. A lady pointed us in the direction of the main building of the bus station and once we entered a man went scurrying into a pool hall that was situated in the building, to find the owner.


Thirty seconds passed, before a tall, friendly looking Kyrgyz man called Sasha appeared, who was the owner of the bus station complex. There were two things that interested us, the first was the price and the second was whether they had a TV to watch the football. We were satisfied with the former, as the room only cost 100 Som ($2.80) each, but sadly there was no TV – oh and no shower and only a toilet located 50m down the road! So we hadn't showered in days and had trekked through mud and rain, but these minor trivialities were brushed to one side when the first guy and Sasha began arguing over who was going to host us to watch the game with them! Sasha won out, and it was arranged we would go to his house at 00.30.


After some Dinner in a nearby eatery and a couple of hours relaxing in the room, we went over to Sasha's house, where he had everything set up and waiting for us. He sat us down on his comfy sofa, with the TV perfectly placed and a table filled with bread, milk and of course vodka. I foolishly decided to try the milk, which looked and tasted like sick, with lumps getting stuck in my throat as i swallowed it down. I quickly munched on some bread, but before i knew what was happening i had a vodka thrust into my hand and we were drinking for Russia's success in the football.


Tonight was the Euro 2008 Semi Finals between Russia and Spain, with the winner progressing to meet Germany in the Final. The three of us sat tensely, cheering on Russia, who had lost to Spain 4-1 earlier in the tournament. My nerves were eased as another vodka was pushed upon me and i found myself toasting the gracious host. Half time came and obviously this was a good reason for Sasha to pour another shot and toast the half time!


From 0-0 after 45 minutes, everything went terribly wrong in the second half, with Russia conceding three goals against a rampant Spanish team. We all fell silent, but at least Sasha was running out of things to toast! It was interesting to hear him talking about Russia as 'his country' and I've certainly got the impression from a number of people that we have met in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan that they still see themselves as Soviet, if not Russian. It's almost like a little boy wanting to go to his first day at school, yet at the same time scared to leave his house.


Sasha had been a gracious host and we left at 03.00 with heart felt handshakes and best wishes. After knowing us for less than a minute, he had invited us to his house, given us food and alcohol and told us about his family, his life and the country he lives in. It had been a fascinating encounter and Central Asian hospitality at its warmest.


After a decent nights sleep, we had a knock at the door the following morning. Sasha had come to tell us to get our butts into gear, as he had saved us a seat on a minivan going to Kochkor. Normally there is one a day at most, with no set schedule, so it was great that he had come to grab us. Dragging our bags into the parking lot 5 minutes later, we saw that he had literally made the full van wait for us, with two seats saved at the back! Final farewells were said and i can only hope that he receives a grand portion of karma, for the way he treated us.


On the minivan, we sadly saw the worst side of Kyrgyzstan and the lasting Russian legacy of alcoholism, which the Soviet regime left behind. Two guys sat by us were already hammered on vodka, even though it was still early morning and one was trying to perv on Julia, whilst the other was incoherent and mumbling most of the time. Thankfully it was only meant to be an hour journey, although it ended up taking a bit longer due to a landslide.

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photo by: londonstudent