Three years ago when I just moved to Hong Kong I met a great guy from Mexico. He was one of those rare people who actually knew where Kyrgyzstan was and even the names of some cities. It caught my eye and two years later I took him to Kyrgyzstan for a month:
When was the first time you heard about Kyrgyzstan?
I first heard of Kyrgyzstan in Hong Kong. My flatmate wanted to go camping and horse riding and was researching places. She was looking at the southern part of China (near Vietnam), Mongolia and Kyrgyzstan. She chose Kyrgyzstan because we both agreed that if you can’t immediately find a place on a map, you should definitely travel there.
Why Kyrgyzstan? What made you choose this country?
Well let’s just say the country chose me… Once you’ve met a Kyrgyz woman you’ll understand.
Coming to Kyrgyzstan, as an unknown country, what were your expectations?
I had some wild ideas and some sensible ones. I was excited to see the remnants of the Soviet Union in a place outside Europe, and I was hoping to feel this “untouched” presence of nature.
What was the first thing that grabbed you (in a positive or negative way) about Kyrgyzstan?
Flying into Bishkek, I remember feeling that everything, nature, roads, houses, buildings looked so earthy, in some ways unremarkable compared to the neon landscapes I’ve recently lived in. Then when I was driving from the airport I started remembering the times in my childhood when I camped in the English countryside and remembered those same colours, the real colours of planet earth. Things don’t need to be flashy and loud to be beautiful.
What Kyrgyz food (or drink) was your favourite and least favourite?
Well, I tried a lot of them, and honestly I can’t remember any of the names. At the bus station in Jalal-Abad I had a fermented version of the “bready” drink you get on every corner in Bishkek. It was delicious. My favourite drink though was “Толстяк” beer, and actually a lot of the beers there were nice ( and cheap!). As to the worst, I’m sure I’m not alone in naming Kumis as the drink that will never again enter my body, I would choose death. I know some people drink nothing else for a week to cleanse their body, maybe of all happy feelings and taste buds. As I write this I can feel my insides bracing themselves.
Can you name the three things that you loved about Kyrgyzstan?
Yes, I can. I can name a lot more than that. Aside from the obvious attractions, there was so much that I loved. I loved seeing the old USSR candies and food in the shops (my father lived in Moscow in the 70’s and always told me about them). I loved how I was received into people’s homes, for a meal or even for a few nights, the traditional Kyrgyz way. And I loved seeing that even in the “middle of nowhere”, people are just people, doing the same things they do in Chicago, Mexico City or Hong Kong.
Which place did you like the most and recommend it to visit?
I had the chance to hike up peak Comsomolets on an organised trip. We stayed the night at the base camp, where I saw the most incredible night sky of my life. Once at the top, surrounded by nothing but snowy peaks and sky, well, there’s nothing like it. Those minutes resting at the peak were magical and have really stayed with me.
Would you recommend others to come to Kyrgyzstan? Why?
I mean, I would recommend everyone to go everywhere but certainly Kyrgyzstan is a very special place. For me the unique part of my trip was being with people in the daily life, seeing how they shop, cook, party and receive guests…and I’ve certainly never been to a goat sacrifice before.
What advice would you share with other travellers, who plan to visit Kyrgyzstan?
Easy, go in the months that every Kyrgyz person recommends. I’m usually not one to plan my trip, but having access to someone who speaks Russian (or Kyrgyz) is a huge bonus, either in person or for help by phone.
If you had to choose one word to describe Kyrgyzstan, what would be it?
Pocamadre…. you didn’t say English word ☺