Bishkek to Jalalabad: Fear and Loathing
27 August, 2008, 06:34 am in "Kyrgyzstan"
We didn't have to wait long to have a full taxi to Jalalabad (and Osh). One guy, a bicyclist from Slovenia (whose bike was in Sary Tash while he tried (unsuccessfully) to get a visa to China) was already waiting. A few minutes later, the taxi mafia brought another passenger, a 16 year old boy with a small dog. With 4 passengers, we were able to leave.
Once out of Bishkek, we turned south towards the mountains. It might have been an enjoyable ride since we drove through high, steep mountains and impressive gorges, seeing lakes and rivers. Unfortunately, we couldn't enjoy the scenery because our driver was a maniac. He couldn't handle the thought of having a car in front of him so he'd whip around them towards oncoming traffic, honking wildly for the cars he was passing to make enough space to let him in before we were flattened by the oncoming traffic. He'd speed over rough parts of the road sending us flying upwards as he hit a bump. I noticed the ceiling of the car looked dented as if some previous passenger had been sent pounding into it. He also liked to speed up going around bends so he could hear the sounds of his tires screeching as they skidded sideways. When he did this, the 3 of us in the back would be thrown into one another. Eventually, we ended up grasping door handles and dry cleaning hooks for the duration of the trip. We had to wait at the top of one pass because the tunnel was one way. After getting through the tunnel, our driver passed all the cars that had been in front of us in line, as well as several cars that had the nerve to pass us.
There was a pretty stretch as we drove along side the Naryn River which was deep turquoise instead of the muddy gray color it is near Naryn. We reached the outskirts of Jalalabad around 5:30 PM, grateful to still be alive. The driver dropped us off at the edge of town instead of the center but we were too relieved to be out of his car to try to persuade him to take us into town. Instead we paid for another taxi into town and booked a room in the Hotel Molmol, a decaying Soviet monster with leaking faucets, damaged doors, and deteriorating flooring. It did have a balcony, though, and was sufficient for the night.
We took a brief walk around Jalalabad looking for a cafe but mostly saw stores advertising electronics, airline ticket offices, and photocopy shops. We also noticed, for being a religiously conservative town, there were a lot of stores just selling alcohol (as well as a lot of drunk people).
Not very impressed, we ate dinner and went back to the hotel where very soon the electricity went out. So, we went to bed. This morning, the electricity was on but there was no water. Fortunately this must be a frequent occurrence since there was a stock of bottles in the bathroom filled with water.
We were going to have breakfast in the hotel cafe but while we were waiting, Rowshan made the mistake of politely saying "Salam Alekham" to a man at the counter who had been staring at us. He turned out to be both drunk and an a-hole. Her replied (in Russian) "What's with your hair?" Rowshan jokingly responded that he just needed an "Al Kapak" Kyrgyz hat like the guy was wearing. Then the guy looked at me and asked Rowshan (in Russian), "Yours?" At first I thought he was saying something in Kyrgyz that I didn't understand because it was just so rude. Then I pointed to Rowshan and myself and said in Russian "husband and wife". He said he didn't understand, gestured us to come closer and when we did he tried to kiss me. Before he got close enough, Rowshan had thrown him against the wall and began yelling at him in Azeri (somewhat understandable to Kyrgyz... and if not, Rowshan's intonation was). One of the women working at the cafe tried to separate them. I eventually steered Rowshan out of the room and we got our stuff and went straight to the bus station (without breakfast). On the road we passed cafes where people were sitting, already working on the first bottle of vodka of the day.
We caught a minibus to Bazaar Korgon just as it was leaving. A little ways up the road, Rowshan started yelling at the guy sitting next to him, an old toothless man who had been persistently jabbing at him with his elboe. The driver stopped and the old man said, "I just wanted to know where he was from." Rowshan replied, "Then ask! Don't hit me! I'm not a horse!" A woman in front of me excused the man saying, "He's old." Rowshan, however, could smell the alcohol on the man's breath. I turned to the man and said, "By the way, he is from Iran." After the outburst, the old man was friendlier towards Rowshan, even moving closer to be crushed against him when another passenger boarded and sat in the same seat with them.
Rowshan said, "No wonder our guide and porters in Karakol hate people from Jalalabad!"