Day 105 (3): Why the f... did I bother coming here?

Naryn Travel Blog

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The surrounding mountains of Naryn

In Naryn I was dropped off at the local branch of CBT. CBT, Community Based Tourism, is one of the success stories of tourism in Kyrgyzstan. A network of home stays, local guides and drivers, all operating under the umbrella of a country-wide organisation. So far so good, but unfortunately, like Meta in Tajikistan, CBT has become more and more like a travel agent, completely dictating and driving up the market prices for accommodation and tours.

For a bed in a homestay they wanted to charge me $18. I explained to the manager of CBT that 18 bucks bought me a room in a four-star hotel in Kashgar. Did the homestay come with air-conditioning? Flat screen TV? Internet? No? Then explain to me again on which this price is based?
He agreed with me that the price was a bit steep, but what a coincidence, all of the local homestay owners were here tonight and they had their monthly meeting.

Naryn town
One of the topics on the agenda was setting the prices for this season. He bargained with one of the ladies that runs one of the homestays above the CBT office and she reluctantly agreed to $10 for a night.

I wondered, wasn't there something like a civil war going on in this country a few weeks ago? They can't have had many tourists recently. The manager of CBT told me they had suffered a huge dip and they had had hardly any tourists this season, but he didn't understand what this had to do with bargaining. Kyrgyzstan might be the only democracy in Central Asia, that doesn't mean they understand the principles of capitalism.

My homestay “just upstairs” turned out to be a 15-minute walk outside the centre. By this time I wasn't in the best of spirits.
My apartment
It felt as if the CBT guy had tried to punish me for questioning his prices and given me another homestay instead (he later denied this and said the other homestay was all of a sudden full and he had conveniently forgotten to tell me I would be staying at a different place).
The homestay turned out to be an actual apartment, quite like the ones I had stayed at in Ukraine and Moldova, so I felt slightly bad for my hard bargaining earlier on. The apartment came with hot shower, toilet, a kitchen with washing machine and a room with actual beds, so this was a huge difference from the homestays in Tajikistan.

I dropped my bags and went back in town to get a bite to eat. It was quite a walk to the centre of the city, but as I had spent the whole day in the car I didn't mind a walk.
The kitchen in my apartment
Even though by this time it had gotten dark (I was back on Pamir time again, so darkness came at a normal hour), and it is not advised to walk outside after dark in Naryn due to the number of drunks in the streets at night. I spent more than an hour trying to find the restaurant recommended in the Lonely Planet. For some reason the map of the town (which only consisted of one main road, for crying out loud) seemed completely off. When I asked someone in the street for directions I didn't get much useful information, though the guy was of the opinion that he had deserved a tip. A what? “Money,” he said. “For showing you the way.”

You got to be fucking kidding me. For the last I don't know how many weeks have I been travelling through countries where people had been characterised by their hospitality, but here in Kyrgyzstan the first person I meet immediately wants my money. Wait, scratch that, the first TWO people I meet. Remember a few days ago, when we came from the Tajik border and got stuck in the mud? Those truckers had been Kyrgyz as well and they too had demanded money before they help us.

I walked off, leaving the guy shouting and swearing at me. It didn't surprise me that his directions had been useless, and in the end I resorted to taking a taxi to the restaurant. The taxi driver, ironically enough, had been the nicest person I had met all day. Once we had settled on a price (he didn't even try to rip me off, or at least, if he did he didn't do it in an obtrusive way) he was all happy to talk to me, showing genuine interest in where I had come from and why I had decided to visit Kyrgyzstan despite the troubles. I had to admit, that I wasn't too sure myself. So far it hadn't really been a very good day and little did I know that it would even get worse.

He dropped me off at the restaurant recommended in the Lonely Planet, where I was told that the restaurant had closed. It was 10 PM and I was too late. The girl at the restaurant was quite apologetic, but I was fuming. If it hadn't been for that stupid map in that stupid book and that stupid man in that stupid street and that stupid homestay in that stupid suburb I would have had plenty of time to eat here. The fact that I also would have been in time if I had taken a taxi in the first place, rather than stubbornly walking, was temporarily lost on me.

The girl recommended me to try another restaurant, two blocks away. Well, as if I hadn't been miserable enough, the place where I ended up having dinner dampened my spirits even more. Yes, it was open, but that was about it. Inside the bright, large dining hall was one other occupied table, with some girls who didn't seem to be having much of a good time either. During the course of my meal a couple of tough guys would come in to sing a few songs karaoke (not particularly well) and then leave again with an arrogant 'look at me, I'm a singer' look on their face. No one seemed to speak English. Well, one of the waitresses tried, but not before two of her colleagues had already walked off with that typical Russian style 'I hope you go away if I ignore you' look on their face. But worst of all, I had been dying for a beer, so I had ordered a pint of the local draught. I have a rule of sticking as much to local brew as possible when travelling, so I was happy to give the most popular Kyrgyz brand a go. Well, happiness faded quite quickly. Never in my life have I tasted beer this foul. And with that godawful kymyz taste still in the back of my mouth I had trouble not to throw up right there and then. Kyrgyzstan used to have the largest population of Mennonites (Germans) in the whole of Central Asia, how on earth is it possible that none of their beer-brewing skills rubbed off?

The food, I must admit, was delicious. Upon recommendation of the girl who spoke a few words of English I had ordered 'French meat', which didn't sound very Kyrgyz, but she assured me it was a local dish. It was tender lamb, served in a hot clay pot, with onion, tomatoe and cheese on top of it. Simple, but delicious (and the first solid food I ate since breakfast, 18 hours earlier).

On the way back to my homestay I found out why it is not recommended to walk the streets of Naryn at night. It seems the whole city's population goes out on the piss every night, and they all end up roaming the streets when the pubs close. As I waited for a cab two of them spotted me and immediately decided they wanted to be my best friend. I was not in the mood. I hailed the first car that even remotely looked like a shared taxi to me and to my horror my new-found friends got in with me. The cab driver made sure they didn't become too obnoxious, but couldn't prevent them from pestering me to lend them some money to pay for the cab fare. I hoped the driver would kick them out when he realised they didn't have any money to pay him, but for some weird reason he did bring them to the final stop of his route, where all three of us got kicked out.

I walked to my apartment as quickly as I could, making sure they couldn't follow me through the dark alleys. Never on this trip have I felt uncomfortable in a place I visited. Never before on this trip had I felt this miserable. I really wondered if I hadn't made a mistake coming to Kyrgyzstan. I  absolutely hated being here. Perhaps I had been romanticising things too much, but I sure had expected a different welcome for being one of the very few tourists that travels to this country this year. Even in depressing Murghab people had been more accommodating. I decided it was the city and not the country and first thing next morning I would get the hell out of this place.

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The surrounding mountains of Naryn
The surrounding mountains of Naryn
Naryn town
Naryn town
My apartment
My apartment
The kitchen in my apartment
The kitchen in my apartment
Naryn
photo by: Biedjee