Sunday, 19 December 2010


It is 8:20pm on a frosty friday eve.  The last garbled grammar explanation of the day has escaped my lips; all thoughts of the past simple, conjunctions and teacher/student talk time ratios can be shelved untill monday rears its ugly head.  As I slip my textbooks into my bag and say my last 'have a good weekend's, there is but one thing on my mind.  That one thing is the imminent approach of a moment where I will willfully strap two bendy planks of wood onto my feet and throw myself down a mountain. 
A nightbus to a cheeky weekend's skiing lies tantalisingly close, but it is not quite time for that yet.  First there is the matter of a super-early christmas meal before Stuart (a Geordie and a gentleman) heads off to do his Air Stewardly duties, throwing a girdle round the earth, not to return until 2011 has arrived, had a few beers, put its feet up on the table and thoroughly settled in.
Stuart's description of it was 'I've invited one or two people out to eat at the Turkish retaurant on Gorkava'; so when we arrive after work to a near empty restaurant without even a distant whisper of rowdy ex-pat banter, we are momentarilly nonplussed.  
The puzzlement increases when the waitress beckons us over to a door at the back of the restaurant which leads to the toilets.  What could this all mean?  Is this what waitressess have to lower themselves to for a decent tip around here?
As we follow her through the door puzzlement skips bafflement and jumps straight onto wide-mouthed, fish-faced incredulity as we are led through not to a urine covered, Turkish-style, squatty toilet, but to what can only be described as a mediaeval nightclub, with a bizarre mix of wood-panelled walls and flashing, swirling scanner lights from a sizeable lighting rig.

 We reach the top of the stairs to be greeted by the one or two people that Stuart invited.  Here they are:

Needless to say (but since this blog principally consists of me saying needless things I will continue undettered by the sheer needlessness of it all) our intimate gathering passed by in a seasonal flurry of vodka toasts and merriment.  At approximately ten of the clock, Aaro (laid-back, Finnish, a great lover of filthy alcoholic energy drinks), Ceci (Sardinian, anglophile, a great wearer of funky, printed t-shirts), Logan (Alabaman, gregarious, a great lover of Boxing, American Football, Rugby and other sports that involve people's faces being forcefully readjusted) and I say our fond farewells and head off to the West Bus Station to catch a nightbus to Karakol.
The journey lasted aboiut 7 hours or so, though would have been considerably shorter if the driver hadn't stopped every 40 minutes of so for a fag break.  I appreciate that tobacco can be highly addictive but if I'd been prewarned I could have bought him some nicotine patches and thereby chopped about an hour off our travelling time.

Fortunately, me and Logan wiled away the time in highly productive fashion, by creating the 'Country Music Scale'; by which you can tell how Country any song is by checking how many items from the following list it includes:

                           1) Love (bonus points for the words 'southern belle' or 'cowgirl')
                           2) Roots (your hometown, the state you're from, Southern Pride)
                           3) Alcohol (particularly whiskey or beer, which is almost always
                           4) Trucks (bonus points if you mention the tailgate)
                           5) Religion (top marks if you 'thank god' for your beautfiul cowgirl,
                                                  for being born in the South, for being able to afford a
                                                  truck, or for how ice-cold the beer you're
                                                  currently drinking is)

If it doesn't mention at least two of these five things, no matter how much pedal-steel guitar you smother it in, you know it's just not a true Country Song.   If it mentions four of the five things, it's as Country as doffing your cowboy hat to a perty lady whilst sipping sweet tea in a truckstop cafe. 
Having put the world of traditional American music to rights we arrived in the misty early morn in the fair town of Karakol. 
Karakol is, I believe, the fourth largest town in Kyrgyzstan and the excellent hiking, skiing, mountaineering and horse trekking available nearby makes it probably Kyrgyzstan's tourism capital.  Being Kyrgyzstan's tourism capital is, however, a little like being Jamaicas most popular snowboarding resort, and there is little in the handful of dusty streets of cafes and convenience stores that make up the centre of Karakol, to indicate you are in a tourist hotspot. 
Having said that, the town, which was founded as a Russian military outpost in 1869, has its fair share of attractive, timber, gingerbread houses, including the pretty little guest house in which we stayed (complete with gloriously out-of-tune, honky-tonk piano)

The living room area of the guesthouse - a severe textile overload
Having not skied for about 14 years, I was feeling a certain ammount of apprehension on the taxi ride up to the ski resort.  I needn't have worried.  On the first run down I fell on my backside half way down and my right ski came apart, forcing me to walk back down the slope.  On my second atempt my ski pass beeped twice on the automatic barrier to the ski lift, which meant I just had to sit around for 10 minutes waiting for the others to ski back down to me.  At this point, Aaro, in his infinite wisdom, decided that that was sufficient preparation for me to tackle a black slope, and took us up a ski lift which went...and went...and went...and kept on going...and going, right to the top of the mountain.  This caused Logan, who had never been that high before in all his livelong days, to invent his own distinctive style of backwards skiing, which for some reason made it far easier for him to stomach the insane, might fall off the side of a mountain any minute, black slope experience.
And so, I soldiered on, chewing the snow every few minutes, down the mountain, thoroughly enjoying my own total inadequacy for the task.  All told, the first day's skiing was a pleasent madness.
We got back to the guesthouse about five and decided the only reasonable response to the day's events was to begin drinking.  We ran into a Coloradan guy who'd been staying at the guesthouse for several months while he developed a cross-country ski route with a series of yurts as waystops (while we were skiing, he'd been constructing a toilet).  He suggested we go eat, so we headed to a restaurant and the alcohol began flowing (although admittedly it was beer, which many Kyrgyz people deign to regard as 'real' alcohol).   After a quick stop off at a mini-supermarket (shopping list: more beers, Jaguar alcoholic energy drink, a can of Manchester Gin & Tonic, cheep Russian champagne and a glass grenade of vodka) we reconvened in the guesthouse and engaged wholeheartedly in a merry session which was fully burned out by midnight.  Sleep happened and then another half-day of skiing, this time on slightly more sane and achievable slopes.

The hotel on the slopes - pleasingly pointy

And so, another crazy weekend drawing to a close, we took the ride back to Bishkek in a very flashy Marshrutka (with wood panelling and flat screen TV no less).  Shortly after nightfall, we arrive into Bishkek West Bus Station, then all that was left to do was hop into a souped-up, sports-car taxi driven by a gangster rap loving Kyrgyz guy who kept calling us brat (Russian for brother) and wend our way back home to bed.

p.s. I strongly suggest you follow this link and look carefully at it.  Really, it is worth your while.

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