Saturday, January 4, 2014

Hello from Kyrgyzstan

That is not a typo.  Today we are in Kyrgyzstan, just a short flight from our new home in Kazakhstan.

As it's worked out, Kevin and I have come to Kazakhstan with different visas.  While we both have multiple-entry visas, his permits stays of 90 days and mine only 30 days.  As we approach the end of our first 30 days here (that went fast), it's time to head out of the country in search of my own 90 day visa.  Where to go?

While this is one of my favorite games to play, in this case we narrowed the list pretty quickly to locations that: 1) won't be closed for Orthodox Christmas on Jan.7, 2) are a direct flight from Astana, and 3) we don't need a visa to travel to. This left us with two easy options: Abu Dhabi or Bishkek.

While the UAE with its sun and sea is tempting, for a variety of reasons we'll save Abu Dhabi/Dubai for 90 days from now (when we'll be desperate to shed our warm coats!), and we are heading to Kyrgyzstan (current temperature 41 degrees F; current temp in Astana is 12 F).

Mountains, mountains!

Kyrgyzstan (pronounced: Keer - gheez - stan) is a country that didn't really exist before the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Because of the nomadic populations until modern time, today's boundaries, like in so many countries, don't accurately reflect the ethnic makeup of its citizens and there have been some ethnic conflicts as recently as in 2010. However, over time, what is today Kyrgyzstan has been the historic home of the ethnic Kyrgyz, who are related to the Kazakhs. Their language is similar, their religion is the same, and the Kazakhs seem to feel some affinity for them.

With a small population, just 5 million, the territory is almost entirely mountainous. Sandwiched between Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China, Kyrgyzstan is if not the poorest, close to the poorest country in the region.  Lacking Kazakhstan's oil, Uzbekistan's agriculture, Tajikistan's warmer climate, or China's size, they are struggling to develop. In addition to seeking investment for their minerals (gold, uranium) they are working to develop their tourism industry beyond serving as a shopping & weekend destination for the wealthier citizens of Almaty, just a 3-4 hour drive when the mountain passes are not closed for winter weather.

All of the travel sites describe the amazing outdoor recreation opportunities - hiking, trekking, horseback riding, beautiful lakes and mountain scenery.

The climate, while still cold, is much more temperate than Astana.  And, there's a US military facility adjacent to (operating?) the international airport that serves Bishkek.  Which makes it not totally surprising that there's a Mexican Cantina in Bishkek.  It's only been 6 weeks, but we are ready for some (perhaps-not-quite-authentic-but-still-comfort-food) tacos.

We anticipate needing at least a week waiting for my visa, so expect to get a pretty good sense of Bishkek and, weather permitting, more of Kyrgyzstan.

1 comment:

  1. 12 F? Your little weather thing currently says -35 F ;-) Amazing what a difference 10 hours makes, isn't it?

    I've been enjoying the pictures Kevin's posted on Facebook of your trip so far.