A half-day’s drive across the Kyrgyz border takes us, exhausted, to Osh, where we are to sleep the night and leave early the next morning for a full day’s drive to Bishkek. When we arrive, we stock up on snacks for the following day and stop at a pizza restaurant for a quick bite. My car, which has been designated the “quiet car,” is to consist of the Norwegian couple, the mild-mannered Ukrainienne, and a young woman from Missouri who greatly values solitude and long drives in a way that only someone who spent some time in rural America can. The other car populates itself with the loud talkers who are happier when they are pestering each other for sixteen hours straight, as if the human need for connection is worth that much.
The woman from Missouri and I buy wine, cheese, and olives, planning to pass the time in first class fashion, taking pictures, occasionally chatting, and ripping chunks of goat cheese off a wheel as we roll onward to Bishkek.
For fifteen hours we pass the day photographing countless yurts, crystal-blue lakes, and tiny rest stops selling homemade hooch. We also drink a bottle of sweet red wine, and I eat more “lobster-flavored” potato chips than I care to admit. The government of Kyrgyzstan only consist of one party, and the countryside does little to strip off this mask of peace and unity. Our guide regularly speaks against the government and corruption, which he believes has greatly obstructed the progress of his nation. It should be noted, however, that while journalists occasionally “disappear” in Kyrgyzstan, internet access remains largely unrestricted and everyday people tend not to face persecution for voicing anti-governmental opinions. While countries like Turkmenistan, for instance, take on more authoritarian roles, Kyrgyzstan is typically dubbed a “hybrid regime.” In practice, this distinction makes the Kyrgyz people much more tolerant and politically-minded than one might expect.
Arrival in Bishkek: The Return of Nena
The nation is blessed with some of the best scenery in Central Asia, the bulk of which Nena misses by taking the Fergana Valley route from Samarkand, but it also being visa-free, she can enter as long as she has a valid passport. We meet up with her in Bishkek, the first and only city we are to stay for multiple nights, allowing us to recharge before the last leg of our trip. We spend one day in the city, a charming hotspot of culture with numerous coffee shops and bars, then spend the next day hiking to a waterfall in the mountains outside Bishkek.
In early August, the mountains are covered with lush greenery and the occasional vibrant flowers in purple and blue. Hiking is exhausting, especially since I never climb this high, or for that matter climb at all. There are intermittent drizzles, which help cool my exhausted self, and at the waterfall I bask in the mist before turning around and descending the mountain to the parking lot. At this site, the Kyrgyz President keeps a summer home where he often meets foreign leaders, including Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin. The presidential cottage’s close proximity to the public hiking trails makes it so that viewing the cottage is easy. Our guide assures us that they close the park if anything too important is occuring at the house.
Victor Bernabei is just another millenial travel blogger. But here's the twist: He isn't a millenial! His goal is to see as many countries as he can, and spread the message that the world is not as scary as the news wants you to believe, and that there is beauty in all people, places and things.