Arslanbob, Kyrgyzstan: Legend of a Cowboy
Trip Start Jul 28, 2013
76Trip End Feb 06, 2014
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(1) Mini bus which leaves Osh between 0600 - 0630 and goes to Bazaar Korgon. From there you need to get a shared taxi. Pass, way too early.
(2) Three shared taxis (i) Osh - Jalal-Abad (ii) Jalal-Abad - Bazaar Korgon (iii) Bazaar Korgon - Arslanbob. Pass, way too much faff.
(3) Private taxi direct Osh - Arslanbob. We have a winner.
Our hostel quoted US$73 for a private car which we declined so we were pleasantly surprised when the first offer at the taxi rank came in at US$50. Not bad for a four hr trip. We were hoping to get one more person to fill the front seat but with no one else around we bit the bullet and piled into a little pencil sharpener of a car and drove off just the three of us. For the sake of a happy Howie I think it was 50 bucks wisely spent.
Driving is by far my favourite part of travel which is funny since I can't drive. I like the ever changing scenery and all the odd things you pass on the side of the road. It's for that reason that I prefer to invest in comfort so as to enjoy the journey and not, like we were from Bukhara - Khiva, be squished in like sardines and hate every minute. The car we had this time I seriously doubt could have fit three midgets in the back let alone 6 ft Bridger, me and someone else. No my friend, you can walk.
Our driver began the journey gung-ho but when we arrived at a town about 2 hours in he asked Sam which way? "I don't know where I'm going mate", was Sam's response. So the lad pulled over and asked for directions, which he did a further ten times before arriving at our destination. Of course he asked for another 10 bucks saying he didn't realise how far it was. But we refused saying it was discussed at the beginning. A map was even drawn in the dust on his back window stating how far and the price. I felt kind of bad cause it was just an extra 10 bucks but it's the same thing every time and if we kept shelling out money whenever asked for it we'd cut a month off our travels.
In Kyrgyzstan they have a thing called the CBT (Community Based Tourism) which is a programme some Swiss people helped set up. It basically educates and encourages the local community to become involved in promoting their village and area. Mountain guides, homestays, horses for trekking, cooks, ski guides. The things on offer are vast so long as there is someone in the village willing to share their knowledge which in turn they are paid a fee. For homestays each place is registered with photos so when you arrive in town you go straight to the CBT office, see which places you like the look of and location which is shown on a big map. Then the CBT person calls to see if they're available and if they are someone comes to pick you up to take you there. Simples. In Arslanbob there are 18 to choose from and as there are no hotels they're your only option.
I think it's a good initiative for both tourists and locals. It's a one stop shop for tourists and takes all the usual hassle out. Within 30 minutes of arriving we had somewhere to stay, a car coming to pick us up to take us there, a horse trek booked for the next day and a car booked to take us to Bishkek in two days time. To organise all of that would usually take hours! It's a great thing for locals because it spreads out the wealth. Within half an hour we had just provided an income to the family we were staying with, person driving us there, guy providing the horses for our trek, guide for trek and driver to take us to Bishkek. CBT keep some for themselves but only 10%. Sam is slightly more sceptical of them... thinking that the whole village have basically clubbed together to screw over tourists with set high prices. Whats wrong with a bit of competition between homestays?!
Arslanbob is a small but spread out town with an elevation of 1,600m. It's famous for its walnuts and in fact has the largest walnut grove in the world - 11,000 hectares which is part of a larger walnut forrest of 60,000 hectares. That's an awful lot of nuts. It's like squirrel utopia. Only we haven't seen a squirrel once so they've lucked out majorly.
Not an awful lot to see in town. A couple of outside teahouse style cafes. We found one in the sun so sat there munching on a few shashlyks and knocking back a beer. Being quite a religious town none of the cafes served beer but we found a little shop that did and the cafe didn't seem to mind BYO so we stayed until the sun went down. Sam had the joyful experience of the worst overflowing squat toilet of the trip. It was so bad he took a photo of it so be warned... if there are photos below chances are it will be in there
Whilst soaking some rays in a hut near the main square we met two little kids. One proudly showed us his 4th Form English Book and unbeknownst to us quite possibly had us complete his homework. Smart kid. Being boys Sam introduced them to the game of Spam where you whack each other on the forehead. They loved it and embraced it wholeheartedly, perhaps a little too much by the sounds of some of the slaps. The Bridgers still all play this game at the ages of 32, 30, 23 & 23.
Our next day we went on a horse trek. We were meant to leave at 0900 but didn't wake up until 0830 due to my alarm being on silent. Here I was thinking that only happened when you had to go to work. As we were racing out the door our kindly hosts opened another door to show us a breakfast spread fit for kings. French fries, eggs, tomato, bread, fresh yogurt (she mimicked milking the cow- sam thought it was an offer for something else), pancakes, black cherry jam, plums, apples - the works. So of course we had to graciously accept and stuff down as much of it as possible. We have made sure our alarm is turned on and we have half an hr to enjoy breakfast tomorrow!
Making it to the horses for 0915 we met our guide who was super nice and spoke excellent English. From town we trotted along to a waterfall, then to a viewpoint, through part of the walnut forrest and past some kids herding cows, up to a massive 80m waterfall, onto our guides home and back into town for 3pm.
Bridger's horseriding skills were second to none. It was obvious he had done it before and was possibly even good enough to compete.... against the stationary ones on a carousel. Haha no, he was very good, especially considering his dislike for most animals. Neither of us fell off, which as both of us have only been riding twice before, was an achievement in itself.
We had to get off at both waterfalls and walk for a bit. The first was an easy 10 min stroll but the second, bloody hell, it was a 500m vertical trek. We both nearly died, me more so on the coming down where I slipped and slid all over the place. To get to where we dropped the horses off we had to cross a river which was pretty cool. Mine didn't want to go so our guide, Saolieui, grabbed it's reins and pulled it along behind him with me clinging onto the saddle for dear life. Sam of course controlled his like a pro.
On our way back into town Saolieui invited us back to his home for tea where we were introduced to his wife and soon to be daughter-in-law. Tea was served with bread, honey and some delicious homemade jams - black cherry and apricot. Already near stuffed some more food was bought out - potato/carrot soup and meat/onion dumplings. Having been brought up to always eat what is put on my plate I did so but my goodness I was full.
Chatting to Saolieui was very interesting. He told us about his family (2 boys, 2 girls). His eldest son's upcoming wedding (son is 24, girl 18). Not an arranged marriage. It's tradition for the daughter-in-law to move in with the son's family until they can save enough to build their own home. For 25 days before the wedding she is dressed in special clothes. The wedding last two days and is attended by over a thousand people. That's a lot of cooking.
His neighbours daughter liked to hang around his daughters so she was there. Must have been about three I guess. It was the first time she had seen westerners so stood staring at us. He told us she had asked his wife if we were there to kill her. Jeeze, I know I haven't washed in a bit but I didn't think I looked that scary!! Bless her. Two visitors had arrived whilst we were there so before we left I jumped in for a photo with them all which they took great delighted in seeing. Saolieui asked for us to post him a copy so I'll be sure to send a thank you postcard once we reach internet. Really lovely welcoming family. Sam took a snap of he and his wife so we'll print that off and pop it in the post too.
Back in town with very sore bums and thighs we strode down the street like the true cowboys and gals that we were. We bought the shops last remaining two beers and sat on the river bank throwing stones at each other and watching the sun go down. A most pleasant end to a very pleasant day.
Back at our homestay and still full from our late lunch we declined on dinner but accepted a shower, Sam more enthusiastically than I. The thought of getting butt naked in sub zero temperatures in an out house didn't fill me with much joy but since they had gone to the effort to boil some water and climb on the roof to fill a tank I trudged forth. Suck it up princess sprang to mind. I have to say it wasn't the nicest shower I've ever had but the trickle did get me clean so job done for another couple of days.
We're now in our room with Sam laid out in front of the pot belly stove watching a film and me sat in bed typing. With an endless supply of electricity it's nice have something to do of an evening.
Taxi: Osh to Arslanbob dep 0900 arr 1300 KGS 2,500 (US$50). Just myself, Sam and driver in tiny matchbox car.
Homestay: No.18 KGS 500 (US$10) pn night incl very nice breakfast. Dinner offered for an extra KGS 130 ea (US$2.60). Electrical heater which didn't blast out too much heat and pot belly stove which was lit from 5 - 9pm. Trickle shower in outhouse on request so we opted for one in two days. Nice family and good location - 800m/15 min walk downstream from main town.