Day 109 (2): Into another country (without crossing a border)

Karakol Travel Blog

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The streets of Karakol (with the Terskey Alatau mountains in the distance)

Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Tim & Wim (Belgium), Catherine (Canada) & Max (Australia), Ralph (Netherlands), Tina, Tine, Ana & Stine (Denmark), Mark (UK), Jan & Lenie (Belgium)

We reached Karakol in the early evening. Immediately it was clear that this place was different from the rest of Kyrgyzstan. Like Cholpon-Ata this is a place where many tourists go, but while Cholpon-Ata is flooded with Russian-speaking tourists, Karakol sees mainly Western tourists. The town itself is mainly inhabited by ethnic Russians, rather than Kyrgyz, which makes for a completely different street scene. The buildings look different, the people look different, the clothes look different (Russians have a different, erm, dress sense than Kyrgyz, so to speak).

The Neofit guesthouse

We had looked in our various travel guides and opted for a guest house in the centre of town, rather than a homestay outside the centre. The Neofit Guesthouse had a nice recommendation and offered parking for the car, so we drove there to check it out. Our welcome was definitely one of the weirdest ever. As I walked in I was greeted in Russian by a girl in her early twenties. I asked if she spoke English, to which she nodded 'a little', so I asked if she had any rooms available. She looked at me puzzled. “a room... to sleep?”
Uhm, yeah, depends on what you are offering, but sleeping was indeed our first intention. Really, it was as if we were the first foreigners to ever arrive at that place. So imagine our surprise when we found out the next morning the place was actually packed.
Our spectacularly ugly room at Neofit guesthouse

The room was spectacularly hideous, with tiger printed quilts on the beds and brown flower patterns on the wall. The beds were at least 20cm too short for me too. We figured we'd find a better place to stay tomorrow. At least for one night it would do.

We met a nice Canadian/Australian couple, Cath (Canuck) and Max (Ozzy), on the verandah outside the rooms and the five of us went for a bite to eat in a restaurant. To our surprise the place was completely packed. With foreigners!
For the past weeks we never came across more than one or two couples per day. Even at the other hostels we had stayed at in Tajikistan there had only been a handful other travellers. It was a shock to see so many Westerners in one place all of a sudden. Especially since, well, the country had seemed completely devoid of other travellers due to the civil war.
The bed was a tad small for me
And the country IS completely devoid of other travellers due to the civil war, apart from Karakol. Karakol apparently is considered far enough from the troubled region that people still come here. But we were absolutely flabbergasted. The three of us weren't used to seeing so many foreigners in one place any more. Not since Turkey had I seen so many travellers in one place.

We sat down at a table next to a table which was occupied by a large group of people who had all met each other at various points during a trip through Central Asia, and then bumped in to each other again here. Most of them were staying at another hostel, Yak Tours, though some of them turned out to be staying in our place as well. Not before long our two tables merged and we became one large, international group.
After party at the Yak Tours hostel (Ralph, Jan, Lenie)

The restaurant served some fairly decent continental food, which was the second time today we had something other than mutton or plov or dumplings, and beer flowed plentiful.

It was a great night and before we knew it we were told the restaurant was closing. Not to worry. We picked up a couple of beers at the bottle store and we continued our little party in the garden of the Yak Tours hostel.
It was a very nice evening with interesting people. Tim and Wim had actually already bumped into the four Danish girls before, somewhere at the top of a pass elsewhere in Kyrgyzstan. Their names were (I kid you not): Tina, Tine, Stine and Ana - really, you can't make up stuff like that. Tina, Tine, Ana and Stine, please meet Tim and Wim!
Another great character was Raph, a Dutch guy my age who had been travelling almost non-stop since 2003.
After party at the Yak Tours hostel (Wim, me, Tine, Tina, Ana, Stine, Mark, Ralph, Jan)
How he funds his trips? By checking into a hospital twice a year and letting them test new medicines on him. He is a professional guinea pig! Great profession, though not sure I'm crazy enough to follow in his footsteps.

What an unexpected great day this had been. This morning I woke up, ready to get the hell out of this country. And 15 hours later I am having the time of my life with a bunch of great travellers. Funny how quickly things can turn around.

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The streets of Karakol (with the T…
The streets of Karakol (with the …
The Neofit guesthouse
The Neofit guesthouse
Our spectacularly ugly room at Neo…
Our spectacularly ugly room at Ne…
The bed was a tad small for me
The bed was a tad small for me
After party at the Yak Tours hoste…
After party at the Yak Tours host…
After party at the Yak Tours hoste…
After party at the Yak Tours host…
Karakol Hostels review
Russian hospitality
The description in the guidebook: 'A clean central option, popular with trekkers who swap stories over a beer in the sociable coutyard' Sounds good… read entire review
photo by: Biedjee