Sunday, 31 October 2010

Of Mountain Lavender and The Red Right Hand

And so we pick up the story on a mountainside in the Ala Archa National Park, a surprisingly short journey (maybe 40 mins by car, ishy ish) south of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek.  So here we are, standing in snow and yet sweltering from the pounding Central Asian sun (like the sun everywhere else but with less clouds to get in the way), surrounded by breathtaking, picture-postcard, alpine views and, carrying on the refreshing, mountain breeze, the scent of lavender.   This lavender grows in thick clumps all the way along the three mile waterfall walk we are following, filling the air with rich loveliness.

An idyllic situation you might think, dear reader, one of peace and harmony with nature, the gentle solitude of the mountain trail.  But all is not well: my breathing is laboured, my head clouded and slow.  I can walk only short distances before I have to stop to catch my breath and regroup my meagre physical resources.  The dreaded effects of altitude sickness are clutching at me.  I explain to Max, a laconic Stirlingshire gent, sometime journalist for The Guardian, and London School teacher, that I am confused and bewildered.  I've never suffered from altitude sickness before, and I've reaching far higher altitudes.  He nods wisely and with gentle understanding.  I master myself again and we trek on, chewing the fat about a variety of topics, from building to Central Asian politics to the whys and wherefores of taking sabbatical years.  

Max - in hardy adventurer pose

Me - soldiering on bravely
We paused to eat a spot of lunch and then took a brief siesta.  When I awoke some 20-odd minutes later I found an uncanny thing had happened.  My altitude sickness had gone.  I could walk just fine; I didn't feel light headed or faint; it was miraculous.  I came to a shocking conclusion.  My altitude sickness was not altitude sickness after all.  It was, in fact, just your common or garden stinking hangover brought about by the previous night's drunken debauch, which had ended with one of my co-inebriants (names in this case will be omitted to protect the guilty) throwing up spectacularly in a Michael Jackson theme bar and then taking a taxi back to the London School (which is approximately 300 yards from said bar).
I paused for a moment to ponder the extraodinary human power of self delusion, breathed in a lungful of richly lavender-scented air, and trotted on with a sheepish grin on my face.  Here are some of the beautiful views that my droopy, drink-penitent eyes witnessed on that trek: 

The hotel at the entrance to Ala-Archa National Park;
pleasingly pointy to fit in with the trees around it.
And so, trek over, I returned to the city.  I would like to say chastened and a little wiser for the experience, but there are some lies that are simply too big to tell, and returning from a mountain walk after having had a skinful the night before (for any non-brit readers 'having a skinful' is British slang for 'filling your body with a medically inadvisable quantity of alcohol'), only to immediately begin preparing for another night on the raz, doesn't even begin to fit the concept of 'chastened'.  
Nevertheless, it was Halloween and there was partying to be done, so I cobbled together my costume and headed out.  I decided to go as 'The Man with the Red Right Hand' from the Nick Cave song 'Red Right Hand' (If you haven't heard it, follow this link and prepare to be gothically educated).  The end result of my endeavours looked something like this:

following the theory that the neutral white face mask is infinitely creapier than anything more ornate. 
Other costumes included a red devil in a Manchester United top (clever use of Man U's 'red devils' nickname there), the killer of Michael Jackson (complete with white glove, presumably looted from the still warm corpse of the recently-deceased, popular entertainer) and the personification of the sacred Kyrgyz lake Issyk-kul (question 'What's scary about a lake?' response 'Drowning' inspired).   Here I am with the lake himself

After a quick pre-game (for non-american readers this is a term meaning 'drinks before you go out', probably something to do with American sports) we headed out to the former embassy building; suited, booted and ready to bring the good names of our respected nations into disrepute.

The cream of English, Scottish, US, Italian and Canadian, really! 
Upon arrival, all and sundry were encouraged to drink of the 'screwdriver bong'; here ably demonstrated by respected London School teacher, sultan for the night and unashamed Alabaman party-animal Logan;

and further the cause of international unity through the shared drinking of cheap Russian beer and the unifying art of dancing extravegantly badly to cheesy tunes.

In the early hours of the morning, drink stores depleted and bonds of international friendship and understanding cemented, the revellers wended their way home to sleep off the worst of it, content in the knowledge that the world was a little closer and more contented a place and that they were merrily drunk.

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