There may be nothing more ostentatiously American than reading cowboy literature abroad, but in doing so I stumbled upon this quote:
We all know what birds of a feather do. And it may be safely surmised that if a bird of any particular feather has been for a long while unable to see other birds of its kind, it will flock with them all the more assiduously when they happen to alight in its vicinity. – Owen Wister, The Virginian
In the same vein, I find myself frequently flocking with a motley collection of bald eagles.
My students and local colleagues are wonderful gems in my daily life; they have actively included me in cultural activities, social gatherings, meals, parties, random trips to Hawaiian-themed resorts, etc. However, if I’ve learned one thing about living abroad, it’s that the thrill and strangeness of experiences are oddly isolating: my Kyrgyz friends don’t see the foreignness, and my North American friends only experience the foreignness through me.
This is how I’ve come to adopt a family of prodigals, my little crew of Western migrants and homesick volunteers. (P.S. this is a great demographic to target if you want instant friends). I feed them and love them in exchange for much-needed socialization. It’s a win-win.
They are also the perfect travel buddies, which is how I found myself traversing the entire width of Kyrgyzstan in one week. It was a dip back into my road tripping days — the hum of miles wrapped in road noise and scenery, tasting of zero responsibility. In my 2014 life-lull, immediately after deportation, Mama and Dad sold the Montreal house and left me (gently but definitely) on the curb. As I climbed into my Jeep, they either said: “Have fun!” or “The next house doesn’t have a basement bedroom!” Either way, I’m sure it was yelled in love.
Obviously I didn’t blog about that road trip, because, well, it’s me. From corn mazes in Michigan to mines in Kentucky to the godforsaken endless miles of Kansas, it’s an unjournaled memory shared only through a few Instagrams suggesting wild whims of a directionless drive.
However, anyone who has ever driven somewhere new has befriended the highway’s uncrinkled freedom.
Good news: this friendship is universal. The flat miles of Kansas and the mountainous kilometers of Kyrgyzstan inspire the same, mushy-gushy best-friendship.
For those unfamiliar with Kyrgyzstan, here’s a quick geography lesson.
- 65% of Kyrgyzstan is dominated by the Tian Shan and Pamir mountain ranges
- About 90% of the country is more than 5000 feet above sea level
- The whole country is about the size of South Dakota
- Because it’s geologically young, the mountains here are sharply defined by deep valleys and scraggy peaks
- There are 6,500 glaciers
- The mountaintops are perennially snow capped
With that knowledge, you’ll understand why last week’s trip to the mountains was, ahem, brisk (and insanely beautiful).
We pursued a true Kyrgyz experience and stayed in a yurt, which could be described as the Central Asian equivalent of a tepee. Mobile, squat, and round, this yurt had beds (clearly a comfort designated for tourists, as Kyrgyz tend to sleep on ground-level cushions) and a travel-friendly stove for heat.
I think the weekend trip can be organized into two categories: 1) moments of movement, and 2) moments huddled for warmth.
- Because we were at an altitude of 10,000 feet, a ten-foot dash and two enthusiastic jumps would bring on a sweat. I scrambled up a “mountain” — which would be referred to as a “speed bump” anywhere else in the world — that left me huffing and sprawled on a pile of horse dung.
We also casually strolled over to Tash Rabat (no, not Trash Rabbit, Dad). Once upon a time, the 600-year-old ruin sat in the middle of nowhere on the ancient Silk Road; today it sits eight hours away from an international airport. It was mostly likely a “caravanserai,” a hotel for tired travelers bringing goods from the East and West. One of my students said the fortress was never finished because the owner’s son ran off with a trader’s daughter. Typical young people. Regardless, today no one cares if you clamor through its 30-something rooms, jump over ancient stone platforms, or sit carelessly on the roof to watch cows graze the hillsides.
- Because we were at an altitude of 10,000 feet, it was also fairly chilly. We spent a fair bit of time huddled for warmth under blankets in the yurt. Let me assure you: nothing is worse than needing to pee at 3 a.m. in the mountains. Talk about freezing-ass cold.
Since pictures speak 1000 words, here’s some poetry far more eloquent than a blog post. (Many of these photos were taken by Stephen, my Peace Corps friend)
Here’s a video that Christos, another volunteer, made about our trip:
That’s all for now. I’m headed to Tajikistan this week and I’ll consider writing a blog post about it when I return.