We were full of woe like Wednesday’s child when we woke up and had both spent the fretful early hours lying in shock and disbelief that we had yet again been so unfortunate. We should have been on a flight to Bishkek (from where we were heading up to stay in a lovely hotel in Cholpon-Ata near Issyk-Kul – a supposedly breathtakingly gorgeous mountain lake that we were so, SO excited about visiting) but alas, the theft of Jill’s precious passport the previous evening had made this completely impossible. We nursed our hangovers and hopelessness for a bit until Susan sneaked out to the shop to buy some beer and something for breakfast to cheer us up – she’d only had about £3 worth of Kyrgyz soms left but still managed to get a big bottle of beer, a packet of cigarettes, a lighter and two sandwiches with change to spare!
We sat with our beers on the balcony, giving our heads a shake and putting things into perspective. It really wasn’t the end of the world – no one got hurt, Susan still had plenty of money to get us by, and thinking about it we have been lucky not to have something similar happen to us in ANY of the places we’ve been over the last few years! Most people you meet who have travelled any considerable amount of time will have had some similar experience – hell, people get mugged in our home towns! We decided not to let the bastards get us down – Kyrgyzstan had been for the most part really lovely and we weren’t going to let a couple of bad eggs make us think badly about it. Our back up plan (we joked that we were onto about “Plan Q” by now, having deviated from the itinerary so many times already) was that we could go to Bishkek to sort out Jill’s emergency passport for the journey home, and then spend the next two weeks exploring Kyrgyzstan. We were getting quite excited about the concept of having a luxury two weeks in one place and we both had tons of ideas of what to do – we would have a few days in Issyk-Kul, maybe get some horses and trek up to Song-Kul (a smaller, more remote and allegedly more beautiful lake), maybe find somewhere to go skiing, maybe have a few days in a nice spa getting covered in mud and hit with sticks, we could investigate the far east side next to the Chinese border – Kyrgyzstan is a beautiful place with tons to do and everything costs so little that we’d be able to do tons of stuff! We thanked our lucky stars that we had got stranded somewhere really, REALLY CHEAP!
We had no immediate pressure to be anywhere or catch any transport for once which was quite liberating so we decided to put a bit of make-up on (putting on your war paint always makes you feel better and ready to face the world) and have a bit of a look round Osh in the daylight to see if we could find any clues to Jill’s bag’s whereabouts. The police had found Jill’s little black note book last night, so we were thinking that if we retrace where we went looking in the light of day then we might possibly find more of her things, and hopefully a trail leading to the precious passport! So we finished off the beer, put our luxury eyes on (we both have glasses that we’re supposed to wear all the time but we never do, but we needed eyes of the hawk (and strength of the bear and speed of the puma) today!) and headed out, feeling bizarrely chipper, ready to get our super-sleuth on in the back alleys and woods of Osh, knowing that we still we were still going to have a great holiday regardless of the outcome.
First we started investigating all the back alleys along the main road the lads had ran down, thinking that they would have just wanted to get off the road and out of sight as soon as possible to rifle through our stuff to check their ill-gotten gains. We looked in every bin, every skip, every hedge and every filthy out-building we could find, investigating any brightly coloured, vaguely bag-shaped lumps and getting very strange looks from all the little old men and babushkas who were sweeping their paths and tending their goats and wondering what the hell these idiot tourists were doing, looking in all the bins!
We got to the end of the road and searched the dubious and illegal meeting spot looking underpass and not one clue had been found, so we decided to head back through the bit of woodland next to the river, which was one of the prime clue hunting spots for the policeman the previous night. A few minutes down the path, Susan spotted something bright blue that looked like a book half way up the bank among the trees – “Jill! That could be the Lonely Planet!”. We legged it up the bank faster than anyone will have ever seen us move ever…and really couldn’t believe what we found!
“Jill!!! It’s your FUCKING BAG!!”
“NEE FUCKING WAY!”
And indeed, there it was in its full floral faux leather glory with its contents seemly strewn around willy-nilly in the muck. We saw all the make-up, visa cards, her purse…and then there it was! The goddamn PASSPORT partially buried in the mud! We really couldn’t believe it and sat there in the mud hugging each other and cackling hysterically. What were the chances? Thank you gentlemen thieves!
A quick handbag inventory check revealed that the only things that had been stolen were the cash she had (only around £20 in Kyrgyz money, and the odd note from Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan that were worth nowt so good luck with that), her mobile phone, her e-cigarette (that she only used on long journeys and even then most of the taxi drivers so far let you smoke out of the window anyway…and they left the charger and the liquid refills so again good luck with that!), oddly – her bottle of Karma perfume and even more strangely her business cards in their holder (probably as it was a silver coloured case). We were really shocked that all her bank cards were there – even though they were no use to us now as we’d cancelled all but one of them and she didn’t have a pin number for that one!
We wiped off and packed up all of Jill’s precious things and continued towards the park to investigate the other side of the river (we were headed that way anyway as there was only one bank in Osh that took Mastercard and that was now the only source of money we had!), still giggling at our ridiculous bad luck and subsequent ridiculous good luck! The park was dead canny – there were lots of little rides for kids, some bigger rides (including the most dangerous looking thing ever that was like a rickety shuggy boat that went upside down that Susan was determined to go on but unfortunately/fortunately we didn’t have enough money), lots of stalls selling tat and refreshments. Eventually we found one that had some beers, so of course we got a couple and sat on a bench to toast the bag relocation unit and enjoyed the “lovely” sounds coming from the random park karaoke tent.
We had a walk over the river (that had some girders and a rusty JCB in it) and through the market which was just closing up for the day. We were obviously more in suburbia now as the streets were wide and lined with big square concrete blocks of flats which housed a bizarre range of shops nestled beneath them, including a number of evening wear shops with their bridal gowns turning lovely shades of grey on display in the dusty streets. After getting a bit lost and worried we finally located the bank then headed into an internet café full of spotty youths playing World of Tanks (they love World of Tanks in Kyrgyzstan!), where we had a look for flights to Bishkek and found there were loads that evening – pretty much on the hour for the next few hours!
So we flagged a taxi to the airport (via the hotel to run in and grab our stuff – the little woman at the door was over the moon when we told her we had managed to get Jill’s bag back!). It was a tense ride there as the last flight was due to leave in an hour but after the ease of the flight in Tajikistan we were assured that we wouldn’t need to be there so much in advance. Upon arrival Susan dashed straight to the ticket counter while Jill went to the shop with the taxi driver to buy tabs to get some change for him. When she went through the door into departures, there was Susan at the foreign exchange desk accompanied by a lovely little woman who worked at the airport – it turned out there was a flight leaving in ten minutes and she was determined to get us on it so helped Susan get change as we needed the exact ticket money, grabbed us both by the hand and ran to the the gate where we handed over the money, got a boarding pass and were on the plane before we knew it. What a star! We were over the moon with such helpful efficiency! Susan had the other passengers on the little shuttle bus to the plane in kinks after a kindly gentleman offered to carry her rucksack for her and she responded with “Me strong like yak!” – soon to become a mantra in our chut-chut Ruski sayings.
We’d chosen the Nomad Hostel in Bishkek as our home for the night – at $35 a night for a double room it was quite expensive for Kyrgyzstan but very cheap by ours – but the room was beautiful with a nice flat screen telly and very comfy bed (way nicer than the hotel in Termiz we paid over $100 for!) and the staff were really lovely and helpful. We’d wanted to go to the banya (as we figured a nice soak in some warm water would make us feel much better after all the stress and drama of the last couple of days) but it shut at 10pm and it wasn’t far off that when we arrived so we decided to go in the morning instead. The receptionist had recommended somewhere for food down the street (we were STARVING by then), but it looked a bit quiet so we came back and she ordered us a taxi to a 24 hour pub we’d read about. The pub “Derevyashka” was actually quite nice – it was a sports bar type place that was full of local lads and lasses watching football on the big screen (which wasn’t really our thing but it wasn’t too loud and at least it was nice and lively), the staff were unexpectedly cheerful and friendly for a 24 hour joint and the food was lovely. We had a couple of beers, Jill tried the Lagman noodles (a speciality throughout the ‘Stans that she’d been meaning to try – it was nice but she won’t go out of her way to have them again), Susan had some lovely fish and an amazing part egg-part gherkin salad that we both loved and are totally going to start making back at home. plus of course the now ubiquitous bottle of vodka and some sok.
We had a good time talking bollocks, toasting our bizarre fortune on the trip so far (“Seriously I can’t handle these extreme highs and extreme lows! Can’t we just have an ALL RIGHT time?”) and had a good phone call with Mark telling him all about our trials and tribulations. We chuffed to be nearly back on track – we were gutted to have to miss out the night in Issyk-Kul (plus we had paid in advance for an expensivo hotel), but it meant we could have a nice day in Bishkek tomorrow before getting the marshrutka to Almaty (Kazakhstan – our final Stan!) in the evening. We’d had Vita trying to call the Tian Shan observatory in Ile-Alatau National Park (just outside of Almaty) to try and arrange for us to stay there that night – you needed to book in advance so they knew to prepare meals for you and the guards on the gate were expecting you as otherwise you won’t get let in – she’d had no luck in getting through but was continuing to try…we really didn’t want to be lake denied again!
We got a taxi back and fell asleep, full and happy in our lovely comfy bed, hoping sincerely that this would be the end of things gannin wrang for us! But if you have been reading so far, what do YOU think will happen?