I’ve never gotten around to spending time to explain my recent trip to Central Asia- Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan. It was an incredible trip where I tried interesting foods, saw beautiful landscapes, and got closer to two of my friends studying with me here in Tel Aviv. One of them, Rosie, wrote about the trip on her blog at: http://rosieam.blogspot.com/ and I’ve included it, and her pictures, below.
Blogistan: By Rosie
About a week after I arrived in Tel Aviv my friend Sal told me he was planning a trip to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan over our fall break and invited me along. After googling both countries and doing a minimal amount of research I decided I should go. I’d never been to Central Asia, and I didn’t see myself ending up there in the foreseeable future so it was pretty much a once in a life time opportunity. We (Sal, myself, and my roommate Carolyn) ended up buying tickets about a week after that initial conversation. Even though I worried and stressed out about the trip until the moment we landed in Almaty, I am incredibly happy I went. Having known almost nothing about Central Asia before my trip, everyday there was a new, exciting learning experience.
Day 1 (Kazakhstan)
After landing in Almaty, Kazakhstan at 4:00 in the morning we met Sal’s contact, Mushroom. (Mushroom graduated from the same international school as Sal but a few years earlier) He took us to the apartment that he had set up for us to rent for a couple days. After getting some sleep Carolyn, Sal, and I set out to find some food and go to the Kazakh ethnography museum.
This is the museum. Kazkahstan has had one president, Nursultan Nazarbayev, since the end of Soviet rule. Kazakhs are really good at wrestling and boxing. There are a lot of yurts.
After the museum we met Mushroom and he drove us to the Almaty ice rink (where some events of the Asian games were held a year ago) in the mountains. Here we are in front of some mountains.
Mushroom then took us to one of his favorite restaurants, Trader Vic’s. This was a bit disappointing because we were hoping to get a little more Kazakh food culture on the first day but they did have a couple of horse meat options. Above is the menu listing locations. As you can see (if you read Russian) they have a location in Palo Alto… approximately 15 minutes away from home in Menlo Park.
My number once priority in Almaty was seeing this, Zenkov Cathedral. This is the second tallest wooden building in the world and an Russian Orthodox Cathedral. I couldn’t take pictures inside but it was INCREDIBLY sparkly. Lots bejeweled of portraits of the Virgin Mary and Jesus.
On our first night we decided to stay in and cook dinner for ourselves, we had chicken, carrots, bread and cheese. This is our lovely table :)
Day 2 (Kazakhstan)
On the second day we went to Charyn Canyon, the second largest canyon in the world! Even though Mushroom was an hour and a half late, we made it to Charyn with some time to hike around. It was beautiful! Really amazing! And the coolest part was that we only saw three or four other people there.
That’s me! By a canyon.
See that dirt path that looks really steep and treacherous? I slid down that bad boy on my stomach. I’d like to say it was on purpose and I survived without a scratch, but in reality I was stuck clinging to a rock for a couple minutes and decided I had to just let go. It could have been worse… I ended up sliding for about 10 feet and getting my arms, hands, and legs pretty scratched up but I lived! (This was our path to the bottom of the canyon)
Pretty Kazakh mountains.
We went straight to the airport from Charyn Canyon to catch our flight to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. We were at the airport for about 3 hours but our flight only lasted about 30 minutes.
Day 3 (Kyrgyzstan)
When we landed we had to buy our visas for Kyrgyzstan but didn’t have any som (the currency there) so we were escorted to an ATM by an airport officer and then escorted back. When we returned everyone else had completed passport control and customs and we were alone with the officer that had escorted us and one other officer. Sal went through passport control first but they kept his passport while letting me and Carolyn go through to customs. (They wanted us to go on without him but we stayed). They brought Sal a bit away from us and asked for a bribe (actually said, “a bribe for me”). Sal, who has way more guts than me said “No, I don’t have any” and they let him through, but I’m sure I would’ve peed myself and given them everything had I been in that situation instead of him.
We were picked up at the airport by a driver who worked for the guest house where we were staying. And he brought us to our yurt!
The first day we went to Boctok, a restaurant around the corner, for breakfast here is our food.
Egg omelet thing (almost gone here) with pasta and sauce.
Beef stew with egg noodles and vegetables (quite good!!)
This is what I had, (because we pointed at random items on the menu, we aren’t really sure what anything we ate actually was) it seemed like a cross between spinach pie and lasagna. Very good.
This is a famous landmark right outside of Bishkek. I’m a little fuzzy on what exactly it is because all of the information was in Russian and googling has gotten me nowhere, but it was beautiful and we were told it was a UNESCO world heritage site.
After that place, we went to the hot springs in the mountains about two hours away from Bishkek. The drive through the mountains was absolutely breathtaking. Fall was an amazing time to be there. So many colors.
Plov. Lamb steamed with rice and spices. Side of tomato and onion.
Day 4 (Kyrgyzstan)
On our second day in Kyrgyzstan we explored Bishkek with two friends we made at our guest house (both of whom were bike riding across the world).
Bishkek government building.
At the market. Everything was ridiculously cheap. I bought a bag of strawberries for 75 cents and they were some of the best strawberries I’ve ever had.
On our walk through Bishkek we found Victory Square. Apparently it is a tradition for wedding parties to come to Victory square to dance and walk through these arches right after the ceremony. We saw about 7 or 8 brides with their parties in the hour or so we were here.
This is the inside of our yurt.
The outside of our yurt.
Day 5 (Kyrgyzstan)
We went hiking!
It was extremely foggy when we began our hike but what we could see was beautiful. We a hike that promised a waterfall at the end :)
As we went up the mountain it got progressively foggier and colder until it started snowing! We kept going a bit because we knew we were close to the waterfall and found it frozen!
Me, Sal, and Carolyn in front of the frozen waterfall.
Frozen waterfall! Definitely a highlight of the trip! I’d never seen anything like this.
Spider web with snow on it.
After our hike we grabbed some tea to warm up and headed straight to the airport to go back to Kazakhstan. After our flight we waited about 2 hours in the Almaty airport for Mushroom to come pick us up as he had promised. He didn’t come. We tried calling but without any other real options we took a cab to a random hotel and stayed there the night.
Day 6 (Kazakhstan)
We woke up in the hotel and tried to contact Mushroom again. We decided we had to spend the day in Almaty rather than do the hike we had planned because without Mushroom we had no way of getting anywhere outside the city. We walked around aimlessly for a bit before wandering into a travel agency to ask for a map. The woman inside didn’t have map but she helped us make a reservation for a cab back to the airport that night and gave us some suggestions of where else to go in the city. She was an incredibly warm and helpful woman who kept commenting that she was helping us because she loved the people who helped her son when he was traveling abroad. She then called her son, Gani, and he picked us up and brought us to meet his friends at one of his friend’s restaurants. His friends were awesome! Here they are…
Gani is on the bottom. :) They showed us a good time for our last day in Kazakhstan.
Then they recommended a traditional Kazakh restaurant.
Once again without Russian we had to use alternative ways of ordering. Sal chose to draw a picture of a horse. I googled a couple dishes before we got there and ordered randomly from my notes.
Camels milk! IS DISGUSTING. Truly vile. I do not recommend it.
This is the restaurant from our last night.
When we finished eating the restaurant had live music and dancing so we stayed a while and danced with some locals! Then we made our way to the airport for our flight back to Tel Aviv.
Once again, I am so glad that I went. In terms of a recommendation, I would say if you are within a five hour flight it is a great experience and two lovely countries.