The 36-hour Endeavor
When I left off, I was saying how we didn’t have any TV entertainment for the whole 10 hour flight… Yeah that was horrible. I don’t consider myself a TV addict or anything… We don’t even have cable at home. But seriously? I hadn’t even packed a book because I was banking on having movies! Oh well– three games of Scrabble, 1 game of Settlers of Catan and lots of staring at the TV screen willing it to work later, we made it. True to airport form, Moscow’s was stifling hot, and again, I found myself stripped down to my tank top while everyone around me was in their fur coats. I must have hot blood or something…
We arrived in Moscow at 8:30am and our flight to Kyrgyzstan didn’t leave till 10:55pm. Carry the two… yep that’s over 14 hours in an airport. There was no Delta lounge– only business class lounges that cost $50/person for three hours. We found an “oasis” with carpet where people were sleeping on the floor and decided that it looked to be the most comfortable place around (for free!). Lucky for me, I’d packed my Thermarest in my carryon… That was an incredible asset because I didn’t have to lay on the floor. When I was done, Sean caught some sleep too.
Again… It was a lot of waiting. Waiting. Waiting. I think for this trip in particular, knowing what we knew about the country and how risky it is to get sick (sterile, quality medical care is hard to come by and the risk of HIV is high with needles being reused, etc.) we both freaked ourselves out a little bit… and we had 14 hours to dwell on it! This is by far the most foreign place Sean or I have ever been and I think that’s working against us in some respects. But, when it comes to food (especially after our Cook Island food poisoning in 2010) it is always good to be wary.
Oh, and maybe this is common in a lot of European airports (?) but there is a ton of smoking in the F terminal in Moscow. They have designated areas, but there nothing to enclose them. You stand inside this yellow duct tape square on the ground but your nonsmoking friend is hanging out a few steps away. I guess it keeps them somewhat segregated from us nonsmokers but still– I think I take for granted Smoke-Free America.
Finally, our flight took off and we slept most of the way. Upon arrival, we got our bags (which all arrived–no gaping holes thank God) and walked out of the security area to a PACKED waiting area. People were nearly on top of each other at the barrier waiting for friends and loved ones to arrive. Taxi drivers were eager to give us a ride (its a very common profession here to drive taxi) but we had prehired a young man named Kas and his brother in law Ulan to drive us the six hours (yep– six more hours of travel!) to Karakol, the country’s third largest city set deep in the mountains. Kas found us (how could you miss us with our bright clothing, really?) and we were relieved to speak to someone who spoke our language. As it was still dark, they drove us into Bishkek and we waited out the light in a small sweets shop and drank some coffee and asked a million questions about life on this side of the world. Everyone (including the ladies at the sweets shop) is so interested in us and what we’re doing here. Obviously, not many Americans hit up this side of the world on a regular basis.
Once the light came, we took a tour of the city and stopped to see some local monuments. The guards who stand to guard the flag in the city square were changing ranks and it was cool to see them switch. Again, these are all iPhone photos as Internet isn’t reliable and I’m blogging from my phone! More photos from our real camera will come soon.
Then, we were off. Kas and Ulan were so kind to stop along the way for us to shoot photos. It was very Romania-esque with the crazy drivers passing whenever they feel like it. Basically, if you want to drive here you just buy a license and start- no drivers education required. One of the biggest surprises for me was the dichotomy on how people spend their money. On one hand, they have high standards of dress. The women all have beautiful coats with fur around the collars– some in full fur coats. Lots of boots, many with high heels. Lovely scarves and chic hats– it’s so fun to people watch! On the other hand, structurally speaking, it seems that people here do not invest in buildings and mechanics as everything is “run down” by American standards. Still, things are livable and the country is on the upswing, but we were speaking with an Australian we met who works here and he mentioned that mentality too, how many Kyrgys people don’t even have “repairs” in their business plan as they’ll run the structure into the ground before they invest in sustainability. Commerce is picking up though, especially after the two recent revolutions. It’s exciting to speak with people like Kas who are on the other end of the spectrum, running reliable, tourism-based businesses and doing well for themselves. This country has a long way to go, but still has come a long way from where it used to be!
By the end of the drive, Sean and I were exhausted from all the travel and despite protests for tea time from our sweet guesthouse caretaker Jamilia, we excused ourselves and went straight to sleep. It was 7:00pm! Dad– I think we beat you this time! The feeling of being horizontal and closing my eyes was amazing–I was grateful we made it in one piece.