Wednesday, July 14, 2010


So, we're staying in Bishkek at the moment - it's a nice quiet city. Pretty calm but VERY dark after 9:30 or so. Not that anything has happened, but it's a little unnerving to walk home late at night (like 10:00).

Bishkek is a quiet city so there's not a whole heck of a lot to do, but if you're ever here, it's DEFINITELY recommened that you check out the State Historical Museaum. I know, boring for most but I really enjoyed myself. I've never seen so many bronze statues of idealized 1922! It's pretty funny, there are statues of Lenin everywhere, Lenin quotes on the wall, pictures of the Politburo, pictures of Lenin walking, little plaques saying that Lenin was here, busts of Lenin, ... well, I think you get the point. The only thing that made me realize that it was NOT 1922 was the paper that had an announcement about Lenin's death; so I figured that it was 1925. A friend just mentioned the Stalin museum in Gori, and well, they're definitely similar... there were no problems in the Soviet Union. Famine? What famine? Pictures to follow.

On a slightly sadder not, also in the museum is a very touching exhibit to the 'Heroes of April 7th.' For those of you not up to speed, there was a revolution here a few months ago - they toppled the corrupt president to put someone who, in my opinion, will do a good job of things. Anyways, long story short, protesters were fired upon and, as often happens when soldiers fire into crowds, people died. The exhibit is really touching and there are pictures of each person who died with their date of birth, how they died and where they are buried. It's really something to check out.

Sorry this update wasn't funny like the last one, but it's been quiet. We're off to the mountains with this Kyrgyz guy named 'Scott' (I can't remember his real name, and he goes to school in Arizona, so I don't feel that bad) and back in town tomorrow night.

And tonight - birch leaves and cold pools - we're off to the banyas!!!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Sigh.... problems.

Sorry for the delay, we've been having some difficulties. Apparently, Blogspot has been blocked in Kazakhstan (or something like that, I was only able to access it once through some friends' computers.... so now that we are in Kyrgyzstan (SURPRISE!!) we can blog a little more frequently!!!

First of all, we ended up going to Astana - the capital of Kazakhstan, weirdest city ever. I'm going to post some pictures, maybe tomorrow, maybe the next day, of the city along with commentary, so I'll skip that for the moment... instead, I would like to fill you in on the glories of getting an Uzbek visa. This really is something that everybody should experience at least once in their lives.

The embassy opens at 2 so we got there at about 1 to save a spot in line. To get a visa, you need a Letter of Invitation (LOI for short) which we did not, and still do not have. This, as you can imagine, is a problem. We were SUPPOSED to have one, but well, it just didn't appear.

So, we decided to go to the embassy to hope against hope that either it would come in or by some miracle of fate the visa would magically appear in our hands. As you can probably all guess, this didn't happen. So we were constantly checking the internet cafe across the street (which didn't print things, the guy told me that he would get fired if he printed something...) and waiting at the embassy with the other foreigners. Of course, they were bitter as well. First, there was Peter, who had been waiting 10 days to get his LOI. Two other Belgians who also had been delayed but then finally got theirs. There were two Finns who had paied AFTER we had but already received their LOIs and finally there was a British guy who was supposed to pick his up in Kiev but it ... well, just never materialized so here he was picking it up in Almaty. That's about 3000 kilometers away.

His words 'If they paid me to create the least efficient way to do this, I would not have been able to think this up.'

Some of the various tricks that were happening;

- The creation of the all-powerful and magical list which, if you didn't sign it, would not allow you to get in. As evidenced by the Finnish girl who walked up and the guard said 'Hey Baby, come on in.' She had not signed the all-powerful and magical list leading me to doubt its power. Soon, we realized there was a second list, which was even more all-powerful and magical than the first list. How smart we got.
- One guard told everyone who had signed the form to wait. Finally, another guard came out and told every one to come in. The first guard then got angry at us and told us to wait. Finally a third guard came out and invited the locals in because 'none of the foreigners had said anything.'
- They did not have the forms which were 'absolutely necessary' to fill out. So we had to find an internet cafe (remember, the only close one didn't print) that would let us print. This was neither convienient nor close.
- Next, the British guy went in to ask about his visa (since it was already about 3:30) and was told that he would have to get 120 dollars ready for express service. His response, 'can I have non-express service?' Yes, of course, it will be ready today. 'So what's the difference?' The response (get this) - 'Nothing, but the TV will tell me how much you have to pay.'
- At 4:30 we left - no-one had gotten in by that point. This was bullcrap.


So Kirk and I left for Bishkek. We'll sort this crap later. Hopefully from here.

I went to the Tajik embassy today, I walked in, no line-up, a lovely girl was working there who spoke perfect English, 10 minutes later I was told I would have my visa in two days. Kirk is also a retiree who was too sick to come to the embassy today.

Bishkek is awesome.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Nearby lakes

Well, we're on our way back to Almaty today to get our Kyrgyz visas and then head off to Karaganda. Should be good.

However, we had an interesting day today. We went to the beach for a while - yes, there is a nice beach just outside of Shymkent, it's bordered by a dam and there isn't much shade, but it's really nice. We went swimming for a bit but then a bunch of Kyrgyz guys came over and started talking to us. We were just sitting there and having a great time, they loved the look of my hat, Bert's hat, Bert's shoes, my frisbee, Bert's Diablo (pictures to follow - but this is a diablo)

- in a phrase, we were feeling pretty special. We all started throwing the frisbee around and this one guy suggested going up this big hill near-by so we could "throw it further." Right.

By the time we got there, he was wearing Bert's hat, his buddy had offered to 'trade hats,' and one guy was wearing Bert's shoes. After playing for a while with Naq (Kirk's new Kazakh name, which I'm thinking will soon become his real name) and me, I got tired and the two of them were throwing the frisbee up and down this massive hill. Finally, I get tired and come back. Naq shows up about 10 minutes later with the words 'he's gone.' It was a 40 minute ploy to edge further and further away from us, up the hill higher and higher and then - bam. So, we lost a few hats and shoes - no big deal but they definitely held up Shymkent's reputation of being full of rascals!!

I ended up swimming with a family and teaching them how to play 'Monkey in the Middle' which they just couldn't get enough of!! A great day, but I'm afraid the only picture of my sexy white hat will be from the blog two days ago. I hope you'll all be fine with that. I'll try to find a new one though.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

To the desert!!

A good day today. Not the craziest day ever, but a few interesting stories did come out of it. After leaving all our friends behind in Almaty we decided to go to Shymkent and then off to Turkistan (city, not country - that one's called Turkmenistan) to check out this really cool church. Well, our day started out not so good. If any of you have ever ridden in a marshrutka, you'll probably know that it sits anywhere from 1-13 passengers uncomfortably. For those who don't know, it's kind of like a mini van with a few extra seats in there. Well, to get to the bus station, we ended up taking a marshrutka with not 10, not 13, not 20 but TWENTY-EIGHT people crammed into it (29 including the driver). And only one window opened because ... you know, opened windows cause people to get really sick. Picture your local minivan with TWENTY-NINE people in it!!!! I felt like I was in the circus!!!

The mosque that we saw in Turkistan was cool, really old and with a few things that I didn't know; the design is written to spell Allah in Arabic, the domes help with air circulation, if you close the top hole of a mosque, the top will cave in, stuff like that - pretty cool, however the really cool part was the adventure to an old deserted town that we took. We grabbed a taxi (we were thinking of hitching, but in hindsight, we probably would have died, because you have to drink A LOT OF WATER IN THE DESERT) and after agreeing on a price to a place that he (very shortly would) become obvious that he had NO idea how to get to, we were off. After two small detours, we finally found out where to go. Our cabby didn't want to drive back through this one village and then back to the road, so after about 40 kilometers, off we were for another 5 or so across dirt roads through the desert!!! His car was kicking up so much dust that we needed to pay for him to wash it after!!!

I was really scared, because if he had bottomed out or something like that, wow... I would have felt really bad because that was his livelihood. We made it to find this really cool abandoned city (apparently, according to our taxi-driver (who had never been here before) it was fought over a lot. He took great pains to explain to us that inside the walls was where people lived, and outside was where people fought.)... which was already inhabited by spiders. I hate spiders. Especially spiders who run REALLY fast and have bodies the size of your thumb.

No, I didn't get any pictures because they creeped the hell out of me. End of story.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

I forgot

There are really big bugs in Kazakhstan. Like REALLY big bugs. There were these beetles that we saw at this bus stop an hour outside of Almaty (incidentally, if you should ever be so lucky to take the 12 hour bus ride from Almaty to Shymkent, for the love of God, don't eat either the okroshka or the plov) and they were crazy big. I think I'm going to loose my mind in Turkmenistan.

They looked something like this.

The internet wasn't working, sorry for the delay.

Hello hello!!

So, Kirk and I have had a few adventures along the way. As a quick catch-up from some basic things;
1 - Almaty is a great city - totally laid back, a great view of the mountians (which are only a 20 minutes bus ride away), and the Kazakh people are great.
2 - Couchsurfing is awesome. We stayed with three guys in Almaty - absolutely fantastic. They made us dinner one night, gave us a bed to sleep on, helped us buy train tickets (which was needed because you can't use a foreign credit card), and gave us hiking advice. Absolutely awesome - thanks to Dima, Andrei, and Max.

Some far more interested stuff that has happened to us. First of all, on our first day, we couldn't meet Andrei (he had already left for work) so we scooted over to the Kyrgyz Embassy to get our visas done. Well, we met a new friend, Eva from Argentina, who was also trying to do her visa. We ended up hanging out for a little while before finally getting in only to realize that we needed to prepay and get photocopies of our passports to succeed - come back at 3 we were told. So we went off, did our business only to come back at 3 and find out that we had paid 62 instead of 65 dollars!!!! Long story short, we ended up paying 'the difference' and we should get our visas on time!!! Cool!! First bribe paid!!

Other than that, we're in Shymkent right now after a heck of an adventurous ride.... Since the Kyrgyz embassy has our pasports, we can't take trains - Hello 12 hour bus ride across the steppe!!!! Not fun. Especially since we had an incident with our tickets. My travelling companion decided to throw out all of our useless reciepts - groceries, clothes, stuff like that. Long story short, our ticket (which, in Kirk's defence DOES look a fair bit like a receipt) went out with the garbage. It took a lot of very polite Russian but true Kazakh hospitality, BAM - we were on that bus with no tickets and no passports!!!! Wicked!!!

We're now in Shymkent, which is a great little city 12 hours west of Almaty - it is REALLY hot here. But, we've bought new hats (and pants, and a new shirt for me) and are ready to deal with the heat. Check these pics out!!

One is Eva with our new workmen friends, another is 'letting the crazy out,' finally we've got our new clothes and our very generous Shymkent hosts - Burt and Gin!!

Sunday, June 27, 2010

We're off tomorrow

Hey everyone,

So Kirk and I are off tomorrow!! We're pretty excited!

Just like last year, I'm going to try to keep a fairly current blog, Kirk will probably write a little bit too, we'll see. But both of us are really looking forward to taking off.

We're pretty excited, although tomorrow will be a long day, we fly out of Moscow (which will be a little emotional for me) and into Kiev, sit around for like 8 hours and then leave for Almaty. It'll be a good time!!!

Be sure to leave your comments (I assume that you can do that!!) and thanks a lot to Britt-Mari for reminding me to get going with this!!


PS - To our respective mothers (and many second mothers) - we will be very careful and if anything bad happens, well, we'll try to come out as leaders of a small, oil-rich country.