Naz Gul called a taxi for me to take me back to Bazar-Korgon where I was supposed to find a connecting ride (in the form of a shared minivan ride, or as they’re known in Russian, “marshrutka”) to Bishkek, an 8+ hour journey. Due to a misunderstanding, I found out I had to pay for all 4 seats aboard the taxi taking me down to BK because that’s how it works in these parts; you pay for a seat and if no one else is occupying the other seats, you have to pay for all of them, else, you gotta wait until all seats are filled, which can take a long time to wait around for, which was the case in BK when I finally got dropped off at the “marshrutka zone”, where swaths of marshrutkis going to different spots around Kyrgyzstan waited to fill their vehicles. After waiting for about 2 hours, our marshrutka finally had enough people to fill all the seats and we set off toward Bishkek.
The ride was scenic, full of mountains, rolling hills, flat nothingness, and tight winding roads. I stared outside and got lost in my thoughts. (I can stay lost in thought for a long time. It’s what I like to call “mind traveling”.) The journey I’ve had so far in Central Asia has been so exciting and I have yet to scratch the surface. I started thinking if I wanted to continue to Kazakhstan immediately after Bishkek or take some time to visit famous Lake Issyk-Kul. Anyway, I mind-traveled quite a bit.
Being of Chinese descent, I could pass as Kyrgyz. I sat in the back of the marshrutka quietly, listening to music, until we got to a rest stop where everyone alighted to grab a bite of food and some tea. Many of the passengers, strangers to each other, gathered to sit around a table. At that point, I think they realized I was a foreigner because I looked a bit lost and started asking the staff at the place about what my food and drink options were in English. (Obviously, they did not understand and I ended up pointing to other people’s food that looked good.) Some of my fellow passengers started speaking Russian to me and I replied, “Ya ne ponimayu”, Russian for “I don’t understand”. We had a laugh but I could communicate that I was from America, that I have been to Osh before Arslanbob and before that, China.
Once everyone was ready to continue, off we went. We had a break here and there, mainly to use the restrooms, before we finally arrived in Bishkek late that night. The driver got me close to my hostel (I told him the street the hostel was on) and after being dropped off, walking around to find it and then checking in, I went to bed, grateful that the long day had finally ended.
Over the next few days, I wandered the streets of Bishkek. It’s not very large so it wasn’t hard to get around on foot. I visited a mall there to get my “mall fix”. Although I’m not someone who likes shopping or even visiting malls, there’s something relaxing about doing it once in a while. (As I write this, I am wondering, why do I like visiting malls on my travels? Maybe it’s because I want to see what malls in other countries are like; what shops they have that I haven’t seen before, what shops they have that exist everywhere else, what kinds of foods they have in their food courts…the similarities and differences.)
I went around looking for Kyrgyz food and the most unique one I found was a dish called “beshbarmak”, a soupy noodle dish that contained horse meat. The dish has nomadic origins so I wasn’t all that surprised. Per Wikipedia, “The term beshbarmak means “five fingers”, because nomads used to eat this dish with their hands. The boiled meat is finely chopped with knives, mixed with boiled noodles, and spiced with onion sauce. It is usually served in a big round dish. Beshbarmak is usually served with shorpo – mutton broth in bowls called kese. Typically, shorpo is served as a first course that is followed by courses of beshbarmak and a drink called ak-serke (shorpo spiced with kymyz or ayran).” However, I ate my dish with a fork and really enjoyed the dish. I also had “manty”, or Kyrgyz steamed dumplings. (I’ve found that no matter where you travel to in the world, there’s always a food that involves putting some meat in a wrapper of some kind that is then cooked.)
Apart from resting, wandering, people-watching over some coffee/tea or food, practicing my terrible Russian here and there while failing terribly at Kyrgyz, catching part of the World Cup, I didn’t do much in Bishkek. Visiting a major city like that is a welcome respite to recuperate the body and mind, maybe resupply, and to plan for the next week of travel.