Gamburgers on Ice, Twister in the Marshrutkas
Trip Start Mar 21, 2005
351Trip End Ongoing
One day, Yogi made a large snowman in the yard. On another day, we all went to a Kyrgyz "Spice Girls" concert, which we thought was a traditional music concert before we entered. The concert, of course, included one obligatory traditional song: parts of the Epic of Manas, sung in the characteristic ancient manner, but with a modern twist, sung by Kyrgyz Spice Girls faking playing instruments.
Carmen gave me her Genghis Khan book to read, as I had nothing to read since Pakistan and was interested: arguably no one individual had greater influence in the history of Central Asia than Ghenghis Khan. Finding English books in Central Asia and Western China is very difficult, for obvious reason. I wrote a couple entries in Travelpod to catch up, too.
During a bitter cold snap, Yogi, Motoko, and I had tea and dessert in a warm cafe. They were traveling now for over four years, writing stories for magazines about people from around the world once in a while. They were heading across Asia and eventually to Alaska before heading back to Japan. Many Japanese travelers quit their job and travel for a while, as the corporate culture in Japan doesn't allow for much time to travel.
I had also stayed in Bishkek for two nights before leaving for Karakol. My first experience with Bishkek, while walking to a hotel was this:
I was asking for directions at a car repair shop, with a good man trying to send me the right way. Another man, meanwhile, was pretending to be a plainclothes police man, asking for my passport. I mostly ignored the second man, telling him "nyet" and saying "militsia?" (i.e. are you a policeman?) He threatened to put me in "jail", but I called his bluff and just walked away.
Maybe other plainclothes policeman are real, but most I saw wore uniforms, and there were plenty of them. Many tourists have complained about these "policemen" who, once they have your passport, will extort money from you or take money while counting what is in your wallet and searching your bags.
To get around Bishkek, it was easy to walk, but also fun to play Twister with the locals in the marshrutkas, small minivans. A small sign with a number and places it goes is on the front, and you can flag them down on their route. You enter the marshutka, pay five som (less than a dime), and begin to play Twister with the locals as the driver slides on the black ice. About twenty people fit into these marshrutkas. At that point, your head is sticking sideways, your right foot is on yellow and your left foot is on green, surrounded by a dozen other feet, arms, and bodies.
Yogi was playing Twister with the locals one day and his wallet was stolen ($400!). That's a lot of money.
At many corners of Bishkek, you can eat Gamburger, the Central Asian version on hamburger. Instead of ground beef, kebap--roasted and shaved meat--is used. Gamburger was a good choice for meals because Bishkek was somewhat lacking in street food diversity. The cafes added to the eating experience, but Gamburgers were a staple. You can eat them while walking down the black-ice covered streets, to practice your coordination: Gamburgers on Ice.
Once the Uzbekistan visa was in my hand, I quickly left Bishkek, not because Bishkek in the winter has nothing to offer--Gamburgers on Ice, Twister in the Marshrutkas--but it had just been a little too long waiting for bureaucracy to work its lackluster magic.