October 10, 2002
|First job in Bishkek, we looked for a way to get some local currency, the Kyrgyz som. "Money machines here, in Kyrgyzstan?" we asked. People answered by laughing. Bishkek began its existence in 1825 as a clay fort maintained by an Uzbek Khan interested in caravan routes that trickled through the mountains from China. The Russians turned the area into a sizeable settlement. In fact, some people claim the Russians built every city in Kyrgyzstan. In those days the Kyrgyz lived as nomads; in Bishkek the only evidence we see of the old horse-riding ways are the boots that white-bearded men wear. Bishkek doesn't have as many stores, restaurants, and businesses as Almaty; Kyrgyzstan lags behind Kazakhstan in modern development and half of Kyrgyzstan's population lives below the poverty level.
Robes, riding breeches, and felt hats.
Kyrgyzstan shows its Russian influences without embarrassment; Lenin proudly stands in center square. Many Kyrgyz are pro-Russian; they miss the subsidies and infrastructure investment of the Soviet days.
We had another embassy merry-go-round and visited the Uzbekistan and Indian embassies. We've discovered that embassy procedures are always different, even between embassies of the same country. For example, Uzbekistan embassy in Almaty claimed it would take 10-15 days for any visa, including multiple entry, while the one in Bishkek will do a single entry visa in four days and does not issue multiple entries at all. In the USA the Uzbekistan embassy will issue a 4 year visa. After we finished up with the bureaucrats at the embassies, we hired a car and some horses from a local travel agency. We'll be riding horses like nomads for the next few days. We went to the bazaar and bought boots and warm clothes for 14 bucks. It would have been cheaper except one dishonest salesman slipped a 100 Tenge note for change instead of 100 Som and our inexperienced eyes didn't catch it; a 100 Tenge note is one third as valuable as 100 Som.