Meeting Kyrgyz on a Road Trip
It never ceases to genuinely surprise me how easy it is to meet locals in Central Asia. Kyrgyz are no exception, and they're very hospitable to guests. Our plain white car looked more like a bus; we weren't easily identified as tourists. But we had our tricks to meet locals.
Stopping the Car and Waiting
For five minutes. Whenever we paused to chill on a lovely hill, a young boy came riding along to have a chat with us. As kids we drove around the village with our bicycles, here, they ride their horses.
Or donkey, as this boy in the picture. He and his friend spent the whole day in Fergana valley to catch some fish; with their bare hands! He was more than happy to pose for a photograph with his catch. After a friendly chat, they both jumped back on the donkey, messed around and fell off a few times while riding away.
The girls in the other pictures are sisters. They had a holiday and helped their mother making Kumis. Their brother was the boy who came riding to our car when we paused in Naryn valley. He invited us for a drink. We spotted something we never paid attention to before; next to the yurt was a small, simple tent. From now on we knew that a tent next to the yurt meant that a teenager was living there. The girls wanted to pose with their favourite horse.
After the shot they brought their other horse called Zebra, so that we could pose for pictures. This was generally a funny thing; after exchanging a few words, Kyrgyz always asked us for sitting on horseback for a photograph.
It has nothing to do with the topic, but here's a short story: Our first night we spent on a hill somewhere in the Fergana valley. Early in the morning, our car started rocking from side to side. I thought somebody was making a joke. As no one answered our proclamation, we took down our curtains to see what was going on: A horse! It was placidly scratching its head on our rearview.
Most Beautiful Camping Spots
Every evening we looked out to find a lovely place for an overnight stay. Before we could settle and start cooking, we often got company by a group of friends. Those easily accessible but hidden spots close to a river or lake are liked for barbecues. We were invited many times to eat Shashlik and Plov. So we began to buy and prepare food we also could share for return.
We've had perfect timing when we visited Kyrgyzstan. The university and other schools had their exams at the end of June. We met a few groups of freshly graduated students and were invited, to celebrate with them; Kyrgyz pop music, barbecue, playing football or dancing and having fun.
It's very common to hitchhike in Kyrgyzstan. Our only problem was our missing backseats. We only had our bed in the back. But we were happy to help out bringing someone to the next city or driving a few times up and down the Besh Tash valley. One day, a man held up his hand. As we stopped, two women emerged around the corner. He stopped us for getting a ride to the city for his wife and mother-in-law. One of them could have been my grandmother, and she had to climb up to our bed in the back.
Another time we had travellers and a local women with us. After one hour we pulled over for a pee break. I got out the car and was looking for a bush to hide when she linked arms with me and signalled to go together. I haven't known before that it's very common to go together on a toilet. (Men and women separated of course.) Then I understood why some public bathrooms - the wooden cubicles in national parks - had two holes in one room.
The Perfect Gift for Kyrgyz
When we get invited by locals, we appreciate to give something back. On our overland trip, we had one box only for gifts, filled with Swiss army knives, coloured crayons or self-made drawstrings. In retrospect, we would organise tons of sun cream!
Often we were asked if we could share suntan lotion. Kyrgyzstan is set on a high altitude. Imagine; they don't name any mountain lower than 4000m! The solar irradiation is strong. Herders spend their day outside with almost no protection. Very often men look quite older than their wives, which pass more time inside the yurt to prepare food.
So if you want to give joy to Kyrgyz, bring them a tube of sun cream! (And to preserve Kyrgyzstan's magnificent landscape one with biodegradable packaging.)
What gifts do you like to give when travelling?
In 2015 Dave and I bought a Mitsubishi L400 and drove off. This road trip took us from Bern to Ulanbator through some fantastic places. I will talk more about this adventure in the future.
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