Friday, October 16, 2009

All up in it Like a Preacher in a Pulpit

So, I mentioned in the last post that I've discovered shared taxis. Well I've officially pushed it too far. I just got into Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, after spending twenty nine hours in a car. The first thirteen were spent with two friends I met in Tajikistan. The driver Ali is seven feet tall with a mouthful of gold teeth. He is an ex border patrol guard and also used to be Kyrgyzstan's Aikido champion. The other guy is an Uzbek english student studying in Tajikistan. He doesn't like books but loves cock fighting (his words). He would watch cock fighting videos on his cell phone all the time and when I would ask him about his roosters his eyes would light up. He was a devout Muslim, super shy and naive and I found in unfailingly endearing every time he would start a conversation with "I love cocks" or my favorite "I have a big cock and no one can beat it". Anyway the three of us spent 13 hours traveling a distance of about 400 kilometers. That should have taken under four hours but we had to travel over a mountain range. I had never seen mountains this tall and we drove straight up them. I crashed off of a cliff once and it was all good but these drops were sheer and like 2000 feet up and it had me all spooked. Also the road was super dusty but they insisted on driving with the windows open so I was covered with a fine layer of dust. Halfway down we hit a pot hole and the car started spraying gas from the under carriage. Somehow they fixed it using only a metal file. The trunk lock also broke and I had to tie it shut using an exercise band I brought. I helped! The drive was prett sick though. We passed lots of little remote villages. You would see something glinting in the sunlight a mile off and then discover it was a group of women returning from the fields, the gold thread in their head scarves catching the light, or swirve to avoid ancient men bearded and stooped in dusty suits riding tiny donkeys over the mountains. I also saw a nine year old smoking a cigarette on donkey-back hearding about a hundred ponies down the freeway.

After I crossed the border into Kyrgyzstan the soldiers literally forced me into another car. Before we left I saw the driver paying off the guards and then began calling all of his friends on the cell phone. Again, the only word I understood was "americansky". I called my girlfriend and told her I thought he was gonna leave me someplace and escape with the money. It was one in the morning and Kyrgyzstan was desolate. Girlfriend was understandably concerned when we pulled up to a little house and the driver gestured for me to get out of the car and off of the phone.

It turns out I shouldn't have judged him so harshly. Inside the house he had me sit down on the floor around a table cloth and a sleepy woman brought me bread and candies and even cut open an amazing watermelon. He passed me the usual tea cup of vodka but this time said "Niet Vodka!" and wrote out 1oo proof ++ on the table cloth with his finger. It burned more than anything I have ever had to drink in my life. When I left they gave me a large bag of apples as a gift.

Feeling much more relaxed and incredibly happy I stood in the cool alpine air under a huge sky of stars and waited for the guy to put his things in the car then three of his friends, two men and a super cute little kid, arrived and we were off.

Although long, uncomfortable and exhausting the drive was amazing. At night the Kirghiz steppe was empty and stretched forever under the moonlight. The wind howled. Kyrgyzstan has the largest population of wolves in the world and boy does it seem appropriate. This is wolf country for sure. I napped on and off and watched the sun rise over towering snow capped mountains. We crossed two mountain ranges, even taller than the ones in Tajikistan, and once came down from the clouds to find a vast sparkling bright blue alpine lake. We passed yurts with nomads on horse back herding sheep or selling home made yogurt and honey on the roadside. It was breathtaking.

Also breathtaking was when we were coming up the mountain on an icey switch back when the driver started a race with the car next to us. They would gun it up the mountain around blind hair pin turns consistently swerving out of the way just in time to avoid downhill bearing semi trucks with horns blaring.

Eventually after a series of wild and vivid dreams and listening to 2pacs greatest hits twice we arrived. I dont even remember showering or getting into bed but I awoke clean and rested.

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