I pride myself on being a decent speller. After all, I was once a reserve on my 3rd grade spelling bee team, combing the Oxford dictionary to learn and memorize multi-syllabic words that I or most normal humans would never use in our daily lives from the day the spelling bee competition ended. (We didn’t win and BTW, any parents out there reading this, spelling bee is nothing but a waste of time as it doesn’t actually teach your children literacy!) H-A-H!
Even as an adult in my mid-30s, there are still words I cannot consistently spell correctly. “Itinerary” was a challenge for me once upon a time; I spelled it “itirenary” more times than I’d like to remember but MS Word would save me each time.
The latest one that I often get wrong? “Kyrgryzstan”. No, wait, it’s actually “Kyrgyzstan”. OK, no red underline… I can move on until the next time I have to type it out.
For the westward journey to Osh, the closest major Kyrgyz city to China, I was once again lucky enough to have the wonderful company of Sem, Zoe, and Alex. Kevin had to go back to Nanjing in eastern China for work. After bidding him goodbye, the remaining four of us boarded our transport to the Kyrgyz-China border via the Irkeshtam Pass.
Now, this journey isn’t straightforward by any means. There were several legs and each required us to find transportation, mostly shared taxis waiting for travelers like ourselves wanting to make a border run. They also combined this with transporting cargo for locals. At Ulugqat where we got stamped out of China (even though there was still a ways to go before we got to the official border), we witnessed our driver load a slab of raw lamb into the trunk of his taxi, put a layer of plastic on top of it, then load all our bags on top of that. (Thankfully, no one’s bags got bloodied up or smelled.) When we got off a few hours later at a stop to have some hot tea and local bread, which was hard and cold since we were at altitude and which we warmed up by dipping it in the tea, we saw our driver unload the slab of lamb there. The lady in charge of the rest house then started chopping up that slab of lamb and asked us if we’d like to order food. We politely declined. Better to be hungry than to have stomach issues while on a long overland journey.
After finally arriving at the Kyrgyz-China border (Irkeshtam port), we got dropped off, walked to a military outpost, and had to find another mode of transportation to take us to Kyrgyz immigration. A soldier was assigned to transport us (about a 5 minute ride) but for a fee. I later learned we overpaid by quite a bit. (I had an online guide saved to my phone but at that time, we had been ushered quickly by the military to get into the car so I failed to find a moment to double-check the fee.) Being cheated kinda irked our group but we chalked it up to a lesson learned about making sure we verified prices and such from online guides written by fellow travelers before we actually made any journeys.
After making it through immigration, we now had to find yet another shared taxi to take us to Osh. It was late afternoon and we were hoping to make it to Osh before dark. We had a little trouble finding transport for this leg and it wasn’t until we asked several people before one man told us to wait while he summoned a friend of his to come get us. *phew* After agreeing a fee (again, based on the online guide I had downloaded), off we went again.
What a drive that was. I mean, the journey from Kashgar to Irkeshtam had scenery but once we got past Sary Tash and onto the famous Pamir Highway, it was mountain porn all the way. Acres of beautiful, green, open plains and rolling hills, dotted with wild horses grazing in the freedom of nothing and everything as ancient mountains stood guard over the lands. It was surreal.
On the way, our driver asked us, in Russian, if he could make a stop at a family friend’s place to drop some items off. Luckily, we had Alex. She has Russian parents but was born and raised in Germany. She speaks fluent German, Russian, Mandarin, and English. She was the perfect travel companion through western China and later through Kyrgyzstan where many people still speak Russian as Kyrgyzstan was formerly part of the Soviet Union. I seriously don’t think our group would’ve gotten by without her. Anyway, of course we weren’t going to say no.
We pulled into acres of field that had a lonely yurt, a trailer home, and a fenced patch of land with sheep inside. It was windy and chilly. While our driver went to talk to whom I presumed was the matriarch of the family, an old lady at the trailer home doorway, we walked around to explore our surroundings, watched some men work on shearing sheep, observed a kid or two helping out with chores while a few younger, curious ones came up to observe us foreigners. Our driver came out again, this time bearing a delicious gift; a pot of cream and some bread. Whether hunger was a factor or not, that piece of bread dipped in that cream was heavenly. Apparently, the cream was made from horse’s milk. At that moment, I felt like a Mongol warrior eating my lunch during the days when the Mongols, led by their big boss Genghis, roamed the lands in that area.
Thanking the hospitable family for the treat, we then continued on our journey to Osh and finally arrived as it was getting dark. I went along with what our group decided, a hostel, really a home-stay of sorts, located in one of the local Osh neighborhoods. However, finding the place was another matter. The driver was asking for directions and we were scrambling to figure it out on Maps.me (which, I must say, is THE best offline map app out there) where we were supposed to go. Long story short, we ended up being dropped off on the outskirts of a neighborhood and walked through unknown alleys and streets to find the place. We made it.
To be continued…