You know what happens. You’re wandering around some region of the world, happily backpacking along, visiting endless destinations, meeting endless people, enjoying endless activities.
And then one day, in the midst of all your adventures, you suddenly wake up in a new land. You vaguely remember getting on a bus or a plane but the details are a little fuzzy, perhaps due to the exhaustion of traveling around nonstop for a while. You sort of recall checking into a hostel or guesthouse the night before but you’re completely unsure of what city it was located in or with what currency you paid for your room. You hear different languages outside but you’re not familiar with any of them. You really have no idea where you are.
Unsure if this is a dream or not, you stand up, put on some clothes and walk outside, determined to figure out where on this planet you have landed.
I know. I’ve been there too. Travel can get confusing at times.
And in case this does happen to you at some point, you might want to browse through the following checklist so that you’ll at least know if this unfamiliar country where you suddenly found yourself happens to be a small, mountainous Central Asian nation.
Are You Traveling In Kyrgyzstan?
This is exactly how you can tell…
Once you walk outside, what language do you hear? Perhaps some Russian, maybe some Turkish-sounding words? What do you see? A mix of ethnicities everywhere you look?
Are people playing ping-pong all over the place? Seriously, are there ping-pong tables set up in parks and on sidewalks, with people playing all the time, morning, afternoon and evening?
Speaking of sidewalks, are there punching machines set up every now and then where you can pay a small amount of money to see how hard you can punch the machine?
Are you smiling all the time in amazement that the entire country seems to be filled with such genuinely warm and friendly people?
And are an incredible number of people eating ice cream while walking down the street, regardless of the time of day?
Are you quickly learning Russian and how to read Cyrillic simply because you have no other choice?
Do you run into the exact same foreigner a dozen times while you wander the streets as you realize that there just aren’t too many foreigners here at all?
Are people living in yurts over in the mountains and valleys? Is there an odd three-level yurt/museum in the center of town for you to visit?
When you take a short rest on a park bench, do university students approach you all the time, asking ever so politely if they can sit next to you and practice their English for a few minutes?
Do some of them invite you to their home for a meal and to meet their family? Do some offer to help you find whatever you may need to find in town and to actually walk you there?
As you continue, does it seem that there are far more females out and about than males? But are the men wearing what appears to be some kind of traditional, and quite tall, felt hats?
Are hundreds of over-crowded mashrutkas (mini-buses) plowing through the streets every which way, bringing people wherever they may need to go?
Do you come across sprawling outdoor markets selling all kinds of goods, markets in which you can get lost for hours while having a great time browsing what’s on offer and communicating with the vendors?
Does it seem that there are more restaurants than people?
And once lunch time arrives, does any of the following occur:
- the waitress brings the menu and then immediately waits at your table ready to take your order despite the fact that you are sweating profusely as you attempt to pronounce each Cyrillic letter like a 2-year old in order to form words that you probably won’t understand anyway but that you hope will give you some kind of clue as to what dish is being described?
- you ask for vegetarian food and you receive a blank stare, followed by a most absolute “Nyet!”?
- you ask for chicken, pointing to the photo of the chicken dish on the wall, and you receive a blank stare, followed by a most absolute, “Nyet!”?
- the waitress laughs at you, then smiles, then asks if you speak Russian and when you say “Nyet!”, she continues to explain the menu to you in Russian?
- you ask, in broken Russian, if this salad has meat and the waitress says, “Nyet!”?
- you somehow order a salad and a soup, with some bread and tea and the waitress smiles, then walks away as you feel quite proud of yourself at having ordered successfully?
- a few minutes later, does a big bowl of noodles mixed with a lot of greasy meat and a salad with a few tomatoes, cucumbers and plenty of more meat arrive at your table?
- do you finally recognize the Russian words for carrot salad on the menu and order one of those too?
- when it arrives, do you say ‘Spasibo!’ (thank you) as the waitress smiles and then you shake your head as you eat carrots and tea, again?
Does every interaction you have with every single person you come across end with a smile, handshake, hug or laughter?
Can you see the occasional man on horseback riding through town, maybe rounding up some cattle, or just traveling to his next destination?
Is vodka being sold absolutely everywhere?
Do the streets sometimes seem eerily empty and quiet, even when you appear to be in a big city?
When your feet are too tired and you need a ride, are you able to just stick your hand out until the next car that passes by picks you up and then keeps driving, without anything being asked or a single word being exchanged, until you tell them to stop and let you out, at which point you’re requested to hand over a small amount of money for the lift?
Can you see towering snow-covered mountains everywhere? Are there so many spectacular views everywhere you stand that on the few occasions that you are not some place that offers another stunning view of nature, you get disappointed? Are you quickly getting spoiled by the endless mountains, lakes, rivers, valleys and canyons all over the place?
Have you discovered that everyone seems quite honest and that nobody has tried to charge you extra for anything, not for food nor transportation nor anything else that you’ve had to purchase?
Do you notice that some cars have the steering wheel on the left and others have it on the right? Do you see brand new Japanese and American cars alongside twenty-year old Audis and Mercedes-Benz, alongside forty-year old Russian Ladas?
Are you finding it difficult to decide how to spend your time between all of the activities available (hiking, hot springs, horseback riding, camping, biking, rafting, etc.) and just walking around, an activity that seems to almost always lead to the most rewarding moments of them all?
And every time you get into a taxi and the driver asks where you are from (Otkuda?), and he figures out you speak English, does he immediately pull over to the side of the road and phone everyone in his family and circle of friends until he finds someone who can speak some English so that you can talk to them and have a short conversation where you say “Hello” and the person on the other end of the line tells you to call them at anytime if you ever have any problems while in the country and then you all laugh for a while?
When you take a shared taxi to a different part of the country, and the other passengers in that shared taxi find out you are a tourist and that you, once again, speak English, do they call every single person they know to tell them about the foreigner in their taxi before passing the phone to you so that you can have a similar conversation as the above? Does everyone laugh and smile and shake hands and hug at the end?
Do you constantly feel high on life, high from the surreal views, high from the ridiculously long stream of positive interactions with the people you come across, high from the laid-back atmosphere and high from the sense that you’ve arrived in a land that you will never forget?
And do you have that rare feeling that, if all your travels came to an end this very moment, you could stop traveling with a huge smile on your face, fully satisfied with the experiences you’ve had and the lessons you’ve learned and how they have come together to change your life and your ideas about the world forever?
If you answer yes to these questions, my friend, worry no more. You are traveling in Kyrgyzstan, beautiful Kyrgyzstan.
Ready to travel here? Anything to add if you have been here already? Any questions about traveling in Kyrgyzstan?