The First of the ‘Stans’: Fairytale Land
“The wilderness and the idea of wilderness is one of the permanent homes of the human spirit.” ~ Joseph Wood Krutch, Writer/Naturalist
Kyrgyzstan. A place I have quickly grown to love. A place of it’s own. With more mountain peaks than people, it is a spectacle. Trapped and freed by the landscape that defines it. The dichotomous influences of an old Soviet state and nomadic culture are rolled into one with Chinese and Islamic tendencies. It works in many ways. The call to prayer can be heard in the towns. Unmarked ‘stores’ abound selling nothing but cheap vodka and sweets. The food is hearty. Cheese, sausage and bread are plentiful. The fruit and vegetables fresh and full of taste.
But, at the heart of this lies the fading spirit of the nomad. This is what the country was founded upon. The older generations saw hard times under the Soviet regime and with independence came a new list of struggles. It is a tough, rewarding and peaceful life. The flock and the herds are bound to the livelihood of the people. A proud group that love their land and know it well. They are strong on the exterior, but extremely friendly underneath. They welcome you in for ‘chai’ at any meeting and often ask you to spend the night in their home. The simple offerings mean more than just fresh bread, noodles, mutton and tea. Islamic teachings mixed with nomadic kindness is a vibrant combination. Pride and hospitality. It is the way of their world.
As I entered Kyrgyzstan, I was more than excited. I had made it through China and entered my second country. After two years living in China and having cycled across one of the largest countries in the world, it was time for something different. I was immediately met with new challenges. After crossing the border I cycled for two days without hardly seeing a soul. The bumpy road all to myself. I had chosen to cross at the Torugart pass, at 3,750 metres, for reasons that ranged from rumoured beauty, it being relatively uncrossed by bicycle and it is much quieter than the other border. Less busy was an understatement. It was empty aside from a few nomads still tending their herds and some lumbering trucks.
On my first night I camped with a family of nomads. They welcomed me in for noodles, bread and tea. We watched their daughter draw pictures and I gazed around at the makings of their home. When I woke in the morning, the world had been transformed into a winter wonderland of snow and freezing cold. Winter had arrived much earlier than I hoped. The family again had me in for a breakfast of bread and tea as I warmed myself by their stove. They helped me pack up my tent and sent me on my way. Descending down the mountain passes the snow faded and the weather improved. Later that day I saw the family drive by in a car, waving with all of their possessions (house included) hitched to the back of the groaning car. Can you imagine having an unexpected guest drop in the day before moving? You would never even know they had planned to head back to their village that day, with all the calm in the house.
Everything in a yurt has to be easily transportable. In the west, we take our possessions for granted. They are numerous in our homes and take up the majority of our lives, as we acquire more and throw out in repetitive cycles of monotony. But, that is our culture and this is theirs. A table for eating, stove and pots for cooking, blankets, collapsable beds and a few family pictures or momentos. Some of the more modern nomads have solar panels for running a dvd player, hot plate or crackling radio. On one night I was privileged enough to be welcomed to sleep in a families yurt after being told I was not allowed to pitch my tent. They wouldn’t hear of it. We ate dinner then all watched ‘Machete’ from the floor of their home in our beds as the family with three young boys went to sleep. The boys well versed in English profanity by the time the movie was over. It was their movie, not mine.
In Kyrgyzstan every once in a while I have to remind myself to just stop. Stop to have a look around. To take it all in. Whenever I do, there is an ominous quiet. If I listen hard I can hear the caw of an eagle, the trot of a horse or the sputter of an old Russian Lada in the distance. Unlike China the people passing by in cars honk their horns to say, ‘Hello, good luck!’ instead of ‘I’m driving here!’ A thumbs up out a window is often the norm. With the terrible roads and steering wheels on the left in some cars and the right in others, driving can be a terrifying experience for an intrepid cyclist.
The following days were inundated with great downpours and pockets of sunshine. Grey heavy clouds pregnant with rain hanging on the horizon. I got soaked each day as I slugged my way to Bishkek. At night I would make half-hearted attempts to dry my clothes. One day my shoes were so filled with water that the owner of the guesthouse suggested I dry my shoes beside a hotplate. I ended up burning a hole in my shoe and thanked the man the next day as I rode along while water dripped in through the hole.
After a soggy few days the clouds lifted and I was greeted with a nice sunny entrance to Bishkek. I had made it. The bustling city emerges right out of the countryside. I rode through the welcome sunshine and stopped to eat some local fare. I had been invited to stay at a Canadian and Bulgarian couples house for a few days. My host Angie was fantastic and amazingly accommodating as I rolled in with my wounded bike and smelly clothes in tow. Just another fantastic act of kindness from the road. It is from here I take a short intermission. I will be flying home to Canada be the best man at a friends wedding, before returning back to Bishkek and continuing my ride. It will be an honoured and exciting moment that I cannot miss. No matter how selfish my bike ride seems at times, I have not lost sight of reality. My Family, friends and girlfriend Eliza, will always be number one. I couldn’t do it without them all. To the people that mean the most to me, there is nowhere else I would rather be. It will be an amazing celebration as I reflect wholeheartedly on my ride so far and the road to come. I cannot wait!
“People learn, early in their lives, what is their reason for being,” said the old man, with a certain bitterness. “Maybe that’s why they give up on it so early, too. But that’s the way it is.” ~ Philip Coelho, The Alchemist
As I break for home I would like to say this: No matter where you are in your life, there is always hope. Through my travels I have seen such great inspiration and joy from those who seem the most hopeless. We all have the opportunity to give our life meaning, if not for anyone else other than ourselves. I read recently, that the idea of needing a ‘Life Purpose’ is a completely new concept in our world. This can be a stressful and liberating commodity as we are bombarded with messages and information about how we should live out our days. It can be a daunting task as we move further into our comfort zones and away from the hard choices that call themselves our dreams. Life can take us in a spaghetti bowl of lines. It is up to us to figure out which strands of life we connect with the most. To follow the lines that make ourselves and those around us feel the happiest. Life has no one set purpose, but is made up of a multitude of layers. The freedom of this reality is ours for taking. It is never too late. As terrifying as it may seem. Follow those dreams.
***To all of my sponsors with the Free the Children charity: We can expect picture updates from the new school in Guang Ming to be coming out next week. I have been patiently awaiting these, along with the rest of my sponsors. Very excited about this.***
Posted on October 7, 2014, in Adventure, Around the World, Charity, China, Cycling, Inspiration, Kyrgyzstan, Motivation, Travel and tagged Bicycle, Bishkek, Charity, China, Cycling, Exciting, Joseph Wood Krutch, Kindness, Kyrgyzstan, Mountains, nomadic culture, Oneadventureplease, Powerful, Pretty, snow, Theview, Travel, Travelpics, Wild, Yurt. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.