Silk Road Day 12: Moving on to Kyrgyzstan

Day 12: Friday, January 8th, 2016

We woke up in Dushanbe and packed up our bags to be airport ready for later tonight. At the hotel, we were offered a huge breakfast spread with yogurt, porridge, biscuits, eggs, and fresh fruit. Siavash also brought out a melon that he purchased at the bazaar yesterday, which was deliciously sweet. We enjoyed it all while watching Russian music videos on the dining room TV.

When we left the hotel, the manager on duty took a bunch of selfies with us and then asked us to video ourselves saying how awesome Dushanbe was on his iPad. Since then we’ve all received friend requests from him on Facebook. The Facebook page even lists us as the best tourist group.

We drove to the 18th century Hissar Fortress, where we rode horses, hiked up a hill and took lots of pictures. Most of us did pony rides of sorts, but Calvin convinced them to let him ride without a human tether, so then a few of us did the same and rode wild-style. And it cost less than $2 USD!

We drove to a modern tea dome that’s used for weddings and other banquets, but the inside wasn’t as impressive as the outside. We used the opportunity to take more panorama pictures, which entertained some staff, who recorded us on their phones. Matt snuck away for the entire visit and hijacked the van to go to the nearby soccer stadium instead. British people, am I right?

We went to the Gurminj Museum of National Instruments, which was cozy like a house and filled with instruments from around the world. We were treated to a live performance of local music.

The entire group wanted to see the inside of the largest tea house in the world, with the exception of Ben, Matt and me. The three of us instead crossed the street to a large sports complex where we saw the local soccer field and track, indoor/outdoor tennis courts, and a sports shop that had ping pong tables that we could play on. With the little time we had remaining, Matt and I went to the nearby carnival and rode the ferris wheel and got cotton candy for less than a dollar total. The ferris wheel allowed for great views of the city and the large flagpole.

We later found out that for the rest of the group, their experience at the tea house wasn’t enjoyable since they weren’t allowed inside, so Firuz just showed them the 3D movie theatre instead.

We all returned to the bus and went to the large flagpole that we saw yesterday, but this time we went up close and personal. It was in a plaza with some food stands and where a random carny guy had a strength game wherein you punched a giant rubber mannequin.  Remi got a high score of over 400 while Calvin, Tan and Matt struggled to get anywhere near it. Some stranger walked up and beat her score eventually, and a crowd gathered around us, making the carny his keep for the next week or so.

Near the flagpole were a couple of large golf carts with drivers. Ben asked them for rides and they surprisingly obliged without bribe. All of us fit in the two carts, and the drivers raced around the entire park at full speed, trying to compete, even at some points playing chicken. Calvin blared the Indiana Jones theme song from his speakers to add to the epic-ness. All this for free! Never hurts to ask, I guess.

For dinner we had a familiar meal of actual Chinese food, served family style on a large lazy susan. I had to charge my camera battery there, and all the outlets in the restaurant had wires jutting out of the walls, so even though sparks flew when I plugged it in and I nearly got electrocuted, my battery got charged in the duration of our meal. Once we were done, we headed off to the airport.

We got to the airport and it was the usual chaos. We couldn’t even go through to the check in desks before a certain time. We had to show our Tajikistan group visa before entering the check in area. Once we got our boarding passes, we went up some escalators to security and passport control. It was fairly simple but Ben tried to get us to stay together as some people were picked off to show detailed documents before their departure. Matt was one of them, and from a distance it appeared he was acting chummy with the guy so I joked that he was chatting about soccer. Well guess what, I later found out he was asked to show some documents, and Matt just asked the guy what his favorite soccer team was and the dude just forgot about security and blabbed about sports. “Everyone can relate over football,” said Matt.

Once through security, we were at the gate. There technically are five gates at this airport, but at this time of night, there was only one flight leaving, so everyone present was on the same flight. We were super early, so we hung out at the café with free internet until boarding began. One of the airline employees stopped me before I got on the flight, asking to take a picture of me to send to his girlfriend since she likes colored hair. I obliged, then boarded.

The flight was pretty empty, with the plane only about half full. I can’t remember the last time I was on a plane so empty. Our group disregarded our seat assignments and instead took entire rows to ourselves. The flight oddly smelled like cigarettes which made me think that someone was smoking, but Ines said it was probably a vape…which also seems odd to allow on a flight. I tried to blog, but was distracted by the group begging me to join them in a round of paper telephone.

We arrived at nearly midnight in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Border control was pretty swift, since these final countries don’t require visas from US citizens. Just a stamp and I was on my way. We met our two local guides in the airport lobby and then they led us out to the bus. It was very cold compared to the other weather we experienced on the trip so far, with ice all over the asphalt and sidewalk. Ben practiced his sneaker ice skating in the parking lot on the way to the car. As we loaded it up, Ernest, one of the guides, welcomed us to the Kyrgyz Republic with bottles of vodka and cognac, which he distributed into paper cups for our enjoyment.

We hopped on the bus and we were off on a short thirty-minute ride to our hotel. Ernest let us know that there would be some welcome treats in our rooms. Booze and now free snacks? These guides know the way to young travelers’ hearts. The treat bag in the room had a banana, peanuts, raisins and a chocolate bar with a creepy baby face on it.

While getting settled in to the hotel, there was an interesting moment in the hallway when I spotted Calvin wandering around shirtless. When I asked what he was doing, he claimed he was just looking for the spa. Pretty sure there wasn’t a spa in this hotel. Later he admitted he had a bit too much cognac and vodka on that bus ride.

It was a long day, so we didn’t party or stay up late and instead all retired to bed shortly after getting to the hotel.