The driver and I look at each other. “4000 and we leave right now,” he says in Russian. I take a deep breath. Now I have to make a decision. Just this morning I crossed the border from Uzbekistan. “Feels good to be back,” I thought, when I got the Kyrgyz stamp in the passport. The second thought was, ” Where the hell am I?”
I have to be in Bishkek today. The original plan was to fly from Osh – the ticket costs about $ 40. I didn’t have one, yet, but was planning on taking care of such trivialities at the airport. The day before, I drove from Tashkent to Andijon. The original plan was to cross the border there. This is where I had entered the country two weeks before. However, the checkpoint was closed when we arrived and my driver improvised. First, we tried another checkpoint and when that one was shut as well, he just dropped me off at some family’s place in the village – “Just try tomorrow.”
The next day it worked. Of course, the Uzbek border guards demanded my hotel registrations, looked through all my photos and searched my laptop. After two hours we were done and I crossed the border. This is when the problems started. I seemed to be in a small Kyrgyz village, far away from Osh and the nearest airport. I was quite surprised, when I learned that we are near Jalal-Abad, way north of Osh.
So I decided to take a shared taxi to Bishkek instead of the plane. Taxi works like this: You have to wait until the car is full, then you leave. This may take several hours. The drive itself takes about ten hours because the road leads across the mountains. That means: arrival time uncertain.
The local taxi driver Achlbek was supposed to take me only to the next taxi station. When we get there, he makes me the offer: “4000 and we leave right now.” This decision is made by the spinal cord, not by the brain. With the words of the great Yuri Gagarin, I say: “Pajekhele!” – Let’s go! 4000 som (about $ 80) are really way too expensive for this trip, but time is money and I absolutely had to get to Bishkek. A press tour for the Snow Leopard Conference was starting the next day. The organizer had a room reserved for me in one of the most expensive hotels in town (Ak Keme, $160 per night). If I didn’t make it there in time, the press tour would start without me.
The ride itself is not so bad, most of the time I sleep. And the waking moments are rewarded with breathtaking views. You cross two mountain passes, one of which is at 4000 meters. Then you go through a three kilometer long tunnel. If we just weren’t under such time constraint. Anyone who knows me, also knows, patience is not a strong caracter trade of mine. I could have coped with all the sheep, donkeys and horses on the road, but when we pull into the shop to replace the brake pads, I’m about to freak out. “What do we need brakes for, just drive!” I was about to scream, but my Russian is not sufficient.
So I pace up and down and just stop every once in a while to see what the guys are doing. The replacement part doesn’t fit, something is sticking out. I die a thousand deaths. Fortunately, we are in Kyrgyzstan and what does not fit is welded into place.
Later we stop again at the gas station and I drink my first cup of coffee in weeks. In Uzbekistan, I really became aware of my physical dependence on caffeine. So I was looking forward to the crappy petrol station coffee broth. As soon as the car starts moving, I pour the whole cup over my shirt.
Finally, we also get stopped by the police and my driver has to pay a speeding fine. – Hey, I ‘m really not to blame for this. I didn’t say a word to make him rush. We arrive in Bishkek on time. “Well, that ended alright”, I think …until I read my emails. The day was not over yet. I got the edits for my National Geographic article on snow leopards back. Since I want the article to be published in time for the conference, I have to work a night shift.
Travel Tip = truism: If you plan a lot, you’ll fret a lot.
Here are the way points: