Tag Archives: mashrutka

Mission from God – no, seriously

“I think tomorrow you will have some difficulty getting down the hill”, Dadas, the charming father of my homestay family informed me with a large grin. “In Lahic now there is floods!”.

I wasn’t in a rush. I’d arranged to meet Francesco and Romina in Seki, only two hours down the road. I could leave at any point the next day – get a bus down the hill after a lazy lunch, find any mashrutka heading west towards the Georgian border and jump out at one of Azerbaijan’s largest – and most interesting – cities in the north of the country. A simple plan, but it didn’t seem overly naive.

I emerged the next morning stuffed with a hearty breakfast of delicious local honey, fresh bread, cheese and butter, having drained about two teapots as I flicked through Dadas’s homestay guestbook. There had been around five or six chaps who had stayed with his family before me; I was the first this year. Somewhat coincidentally, the last person to have stayed a year or so ago was also called Ewan, with an equally Scottish name. For lack of more interesting conversation set-pieces, I brought this up.

“The Scottish are excellent. I like them. Mel Gibson”, he attested.

The smell of rain in the mountains reminded me of the drenching I had had in Kyrgyzstan a few weeks before. The sky didn’t look too threatening, so I hoped I’d be able to make it out without pulling out my swimming trunks. I clung to the hope that there’d been some progress on the road situation which appeared bleak the night before.  

Rocks in a variety of sizes were strewn around the village, carried down by the torrents the evening before. As I reached the ford at the start of the village, the scale of the problem became clear. The road had been entirely washed down the mountain.

“I think this will take a long time to fix”, explained the local English teacher, who approached me out of a large crowd of locals who had gathered to gawp at the destruction. “Maybe three days. Maybe a week. But it will not be fixed today.”
“Does this happen often?” I enquired.
“Like this? No.” He replied bluntly.

Lahic is indeed beautiful, but I wasn’t entirely convinced that I’d need another seven days on the hillsides and chilling with the coppersmiths. At some point, Dadas’s family would probably want their front room back.

“You want to walk?” Dadas thought I was crazy. “It is 36 kilometres to the main road. You have your bags. And then there’s the rain”. The sky had turned black and more rain lashed down. “Today, you are not a tourist. You are my guest. If you want to stay, there is no problem. It is an exam from Allah. You will stay and I will take no money”.

It was hard to argue with such an impassioned offer of hospitality.

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Weirdo on the bus

This, it appears, is an international phenomenon.

Whenever one is traveling alone by public transport, there is an apparent guarantee whereby the sole empty seat on the bus will be located next to the flaming exhibitionist, the spaced-out drunkard, or the mind-numbing bore.

Through some remarkably serendipitous turn of events, I was seated next to two men, united in their uncommon weirdness, as I made the trip along the southern bank of Issyk-Kul.

The clouds had finally relieved themselves of the rain that had been plaguing my stay in the mountains, and it took real dedication to the rhubarb cause to jump on a mashrutka whilst the sun shone in the cloudless sky.

‘Just the two hours’, the resident Swiss expert told me that it would take to make it to Balykchy, where I would need to get off and start negotiations with the collective taxi sharks at the bus station. And let me tell you, dear readers, it is one hell of a feeding frenzy when a foreigner, complete with dusty backpack, steps off a bus with the unmistakable expression of being entirely lost.

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