BISHKEK, KYRGYZSTAN — Another long flight overnight and woke up as we landed in Bishkek a little after 8am local time. The airport was much less hectic than Istanbul, and the border formalities were straight forward. I was very tired and glad to have someone waiting for me with a vehicle to take me to the Southside Guesthouse where I was able to sleep a little while before attempting to start my day and get acquainted with the new timezone.
My first impressions as I made my way into the city was how quiet it seemed. The boulevards were wide and straight but seemed kind of empty and everything seemed a little bit laid back. I was able to find a place to change money nearby and a store to buy some basic groceries and a place to go eat locally. I would have to find a local mobile phone and a sim card in the morning before leaving for my roadtrip, but I was lucky to get my vehicle and review everything today.
The truck I will be driving is sourced from Iron Horse Nomads. The Russian-built UAZ patriot is supposed to be equivalent to a Jeep in terms of capabilities. This particular version is a stock vehicle outfitted with an off-brand tire that is considered to be a good compromise All Terrain tire for local conditions both on and off road. The UAZ seems nice and comfortable and apart from a few weird quirks feels familiar enough. It is a manual transmission which will be more challenging for me than the automatics that I am most used to, but it should not present any problems. The bigger challenge for me will be trying to read signs in Cyrillic. I have also been alerted to a number of “nuances” of local driving and law enforcement that I will need to be aware of.
The day was full of administrative details and preparations for the journey ahead, and I was itching to finally get out on the road. My plan is for an early wake up and a decent head start along a section of the Parmir Highway before turning off for a village in the middle of a great gorge.
I have a couple of options in terms of my itinerary, and my choice will probably depend on how long it takes me to get the phone, change money and shop for supplies in the morning. I settled in for an early evening at the guest house and took the time to repack my gear in a way that made sense for a roadtrip before turning in for the night.
The adventure begins in earnest in the morning…
ABOUT THE EXPEDITION
JoMarie Fecci sets off for a solo scouting mission into a new region of exploration for USnomads — the famed Silk Road across Central Asia. This initial recce in Kyrgyzstan will lay the groundwork for a longer and more ambitious journey tentatively scheduled for the summer of 2018. Using this first trip in the region to get an introduction to some different nomadic cultures and to adventurous terrain that will pose new challenges, she will travel south from Bishkek to an ancient caravanserai at Tash Rabat near the border with China before looping back along the shores of lake Issy Kul…
WHERE WE ARE
The Kyrgyz Republic is a landlocked country in Central Asia, bordered by Kazakhstan to the north, Uzbekistan to the west and southwest, Tajikistan to the southwest and China to the east. Its capital and largest city is Bishkek. Characterized by mountainous terrain, Kyrgyzstan has been at the crossroads of several great civilizations, most notably as part of the Silk Road caravan routes. Though long inhabited by a succession of independent tribes and clans, Kyrgyzstan has periodically fallen under foreign domination and attained sovereignty as a nation-state only after the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Ethnic Kyrgyz make up the majority of the country’s 5.7 million people, followed by significant minorities of Uzbeks and Russians. Kyrgyz is closely related to other Turkic languages, although Russian remains widely spoken and is an official language, a legacy of a century of Russification. The majority of the population are non-denominational Muslims. In addition to its Turkic origins, Kyrgyz culture bears elements of Persian, Mongolian and Russian influence. However, many aspects of ancient Kyrgyz culture have been preserved due in part to the geographical isolation provided by its high mountain terrain.