Tuesday, September 11, 2012


Part of my schedule here includes excursions out of Bishkek to various locations around Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian countries. This past weekend 10 of us from the London School drove about 4 hours to Lake Issyk-Kul to stay in a beautiful 'lake house', build a little yurt, and experience what it's really like to be Kyrgyz in a full-on, up-the-mountain, high-altitude day hike.

Lake Issyk-Kyl is the second largest salt lake in the world, after the Caspian Sea, so it never freezes. Those of you who know me well should know that I'm not a big lake-swimmer. I'm just not a big water person in general. Despite my fears I went ahead and stripped down to my skivvies and went for it with a beautiful sunset highlighting the horizon. Half way around the world, I might as well, right? As expected, the water was warm and it was salty. I even plugged my nose and went under! Once. Then made for shore in haste.

The beautiful shore of Issyk-Kul in the morning light.

Our weekend residence with the lake in the background, some mountains hiding behind the clouds.

We spent all of Saturday hiking up to some gorgeous alpine lake, though none of us actually made it to the lake. It was a rigorous hike pretty much straight up the mountain, but for our guide it was just another day in the life.  And while hiding under a rock from some chilly raindrops I happened to see another guy just livin' the life, herding his sheep across the hills. The landscape was rugged and beautiful, though I thought it could have been anywhere in Montana or Idaho or Wyoming. It felt like home and my companions suggested multiple times that they thought I was made for Kyrgyzstan. But do not be fooled by the pretty little hill in this photo...It was a big hill. And behind it, obscured by those clouds, some serious snow capped peaks. I took this photo after I gave up on reaching the lake, after we'd already hiked up probably more than 6,000 feet.

The view from the top. And the little tent that was the herder's abode. We passed it on the hike up and stopped to see if anyone was home. Unfortunately, just the dog and a couple calves.

That may be my only mountain scaling adventure within the next four months, but it was an amazing way to get a little bit up close and personal with Kyrgyzstan and I'm looking forward to spending next weekend again on the lake!
More on the yurt later...

Friday, September 7, 2012


    So here I am, half way around the world, in Kyrgyzstan. For those of you who don't already know, I'll be spending the next four months in Bishkek, the country's capital, working on my Russian and learning all the ins and outs of Central Asia. I arrived here two weeks ago and won't be seeing the western world until the end of December. For now I am living with a very sweet Kyrgyz woman and her 8 year old daughter, but at the end of September I will be moving into the dorms at my school. There are three other students in my class, all from the United States, and all with incredibly different backgrounds. One is a history major, one is a political science major, the other is an ex-military, agriculture (?) major interested international security, and then there's me... really into the culture and stuff. We all get along really well and, despite our different areas of expertise, we all seem to be working for a common goal, so our classroom discussions have been very lively and well rounded.
    The first part of most days we each have private language lessons. I have to say, four hours of one-on-one lessons is exhausting. By the end of my second class I am beat. Everyone else says the same. It is really a struggle to get through to lunch at 1. But it is only the second week of classes, so I'm sure we're all just still settling into the swing of this new schedule. By the end of the fourth month I think I'll be cruising through those hours with ease.
    In the afternoons we all get together for "The New Great Game" and "Understanding Central Asia". These classes are in English, discussing the history, culture, and political economics of Central Asia. On Wednesdays we have the incredible opportunity to hear lectures from guest speakers, have discussion panels with local students, and finish the day with a cooking or crafting class. Our first two guest speakers were absolutely amazing and I had the good sense to record their lectures.
    Living here has been very cheap and it seems that every day I have some new wild story from my trips on the public transportation, but more on that later. The city is safe enough, with relatively little violent crime. There is a large Russian population here so being a white person doesn't necessarily make me stand out as a foreigner, which is comforting to me.
     More later!