To the beach!

18 09 2010

Last weekend was the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting and reflection.  I hadn’t noticed Ramadan affecting daily life in Kyrgyzstan as much as I had in Turkey or even Albania.  Restaurants were generally open and being patronized during the day, at least in Bishkek proper.  But the end of Ramadan still merits a celebration.  As such, we got a three day weekend in honor of Kurman Ait (Eid ul-Fitr).  And we decided to go to the beach!

We met up Thursday night to make plans, and we decided to head up to Lake Issyk Kul, the shining jewel in Kyrgyzstan’s landlocked mountains.  Issyk Kul is the tenth largest lake (by volume) and the second largest alpine lake (behind Titicaca) in the world.  It takes between three and six hours to get there, depending on whether you’re headed to the south shore or the north shore, and how far along the lake you’re headed.  The north shore is more developed, but we decided that, because we’d waited until the last minute to do any sort of planning, we’d head up that way to Cholpon-Ata and try to find some rooms in a guesthouse.  The first weekend in September generally hails the end of the tourist season, as the weather starts to turn quite cold thereafter.

Six of us: Will, from South Carolina; Eve, from Massachusetts; Max, from Scotland via London; Aaro, from Finland; Cecilia, from Sardinia; and myself; met up at the West bus station, where all of the buses, taxis and mashrutkas (minibuses) headed to Issyk Kul depart from.  As there were six of us, it made sense for us to just hire a minivan (about $8.50 a piece).  Apparently it was the driver’s life mission to make it to Cholpon-Ata in the fastest possible way, and he zipped along the highway at an occasionally unsettling speed, arriving there in just at three hours.  We had lunch and then wandered along the main road looking for a guesthouse.  The town was pretty quiet, and we were quickly able to find a pension to crash at for about $8 per person per night — with each of us getting our own beds and real toilets and hot water…not too shabby!

Chilling while the driver decided to take a break from ass-hauling

The guesthouse was about a ten minute walk from the beach, and, once we were settled in to the hotel, we got down to the purpose of the trip.  We found a spot amidst the Kyrgyz, Kazakh and Russian tourists, lathered on the sunscreen and beached it out hard core.

The lake is stunningly gorgeous, and we could see the ghosts of the mountains surrounding the lake floating in the perfectly blue sky in the distance.  The water was chilly, but not unbearable, and we all spent a great deal of time frolicking in the water.  When not doing so, we lolled on the beach, bought smoked fish from the fish vendors, knocked back a couple pivas (beers), and solved all of the worlds problems (as expats are wont to do).  We had a relatively quiet night after Friday night, passing the hours playing nickels over a couple of beers.

You can just make out the snow-capped mountains off in the distance.

On Saturday, it was take two, but with more adventure!  There was jetskiing, parasailing, banana boating (only the latter for me, alas), and more general tomfoolery.  After a full day of sun (and unfortunately a bit of sunburn), we decided that a full-blown hootenanny was called for.  We set up camp at a local restaurant across the way from the hotel and partook in the fabulous CIS tradition of heading eyes-deep into vodka toasts, reveling in our newly bound friendship and somehow managing to not piss off the waitress, who seemed genuinely amused by our increasingly boisterous antics.

Who's that guy?

Ceci and a falcon!

We all arose the next morning, blearily pieced the end of the night together for each other, had a good breakfast and hired another minivan back to Bishkek, where we arrived, sunkist and tired, in the early evening, ending a spectacular weekend on the Kyrgyz Riviera.




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