I hope you’re having a wonderful day. (Just in case you have your head in the sand, today is August 31, the day Kyrgyzstan celebrates its freedom from Soviet rule.) We trust you are acknowledging the occasion in an appropriate manner.
As for us, our celebratory inclinations were thwarted. We got up early to catch a (Mercedes!) bus to Karakol, Kyrgyzstan’s most populous eastern city. There were no operable windows, I had to stand the entire time, and I kept bumping by head against the ceiling. God damn you, Mercedes Benz! Then, to add insult to injury, we arrived an hour too late to witness Karakol’s Sunday animal market. Like you, we now can only imagine what it’s like to watch a Kyrgyz farmer and his friends try to load a sheep or a bull into the trunk of a Daewoo taxi.
Then, with every other Anglo in town (there are quite a few on hand for the occasion), we searched high and low for some nomadic sports, which are a Kyrgyz holiday tradition. No one was playing kyz-kumay, a game in which a man chases a woman, both on horseback, trying to steal a kiss. Udarysh wasn’t on offer either – that’s horseback wrestling. And to our greatest dismay, all games of kok boru were apparently called off. Kok boru is great fun, essentially a mounted brawl during which any number of Kyrgyz men compete to capture the headless carcass of a goat. (I’d prefer the girl’s kiss, thank you very much.) Without these festivities, today’s day of rejoicing had turned into a day of mourning.
There are rumours that today has actually been declared an official day of mourning by the nation’s president in response to a Kyrgyz plane crash earlier this month. (We flew Kyrgyz Airlines just a few days ago and arrived safe and sound. The flight attendants could use a congeniality refresher however.)
So, we’ve pretty much just stumbled about Karakol today, chomping at the bit (get it?) to get back into those mountains. Those mountains, of course, don’t have internet cafes, so you probably won’t hear from us for a while.