Live From Here (Episode 2): Jalal-abad, Kyrgyzstan

Derek Kyrgyzstan, Live From Here!, Videos 42 Comments

The Spa at Jalal-abad, Kyrgyzstan

Welcome to the second episode of Wandering Earl: Live From Here, my new video series. Here’s a little background for this next episode…

Two weeks ago, I was in the town of Jalal-abad, Kyrgyzstan when I learned about an old Soviet spa/sanatorium located on top of a nearby hill. With not much else to do, I decided to jump into a taxi and head over there, completely unaware at the time that the next few hours of my life would prove to be some of the most memorable of my entire 14 years of travel.

When I entered the first building I came across, I simply asked the woman at the reception desk, ‘Is this the spa?’. She smiled and picked up the phone, calling over the only English-speaking staff member on the premises.

Before I knew it, Elgar arrived and he absolutely could not believe that a random foreigner had shown up at this spa. He was smiling and laughing and so eager to show me around, which he, along with his equally surprised assistant, did, pointing out, in very limited English, everything that the spa offered. (The photo above is of me, Elgar and his assistant.)

And when I asked if I could book a mud treatment, he truly lit up and the fun really began. Suddenly, I was being taken care of by a team of excited, beaming, amazingly friendly spa attendants who showed me into a room and began preparing my treatment. Then, there I was, lying naked on a table, covered in mud, being wrapped in blankets, and loving every minute of it.

It was quite a day. And once it was all over, after having spent almost three hours at the spa, I went to pay my bill. But Elgar simply looked at me with another huge smile on his face and said, “No money. This is a present for you.

I was blown away. I felt refreshed and rejuvenated, not only from the mud and the minerals but also from being fortunate enough to have met such beautifully kind people. As a result, I will never forget that day, or the people I met, at this old Soviet spa in Jalal-abad, Kyrgyzstan.

Now I bring to you this second episode of my video series, an episode that takes place not just at that very spa, but during the middle of my mud treatment!

(If you’re reading this post via email, just click here to view the video on my blog.)

Have you ever had a day that involved a completely unexpected activity/experience that ended up being a highlight of your travels and/or life in general?

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Comments 42

  1. Pingback: Itinerario para viajar a Kirguistán - Marcando el Polo

  2. Pingback: 40 Epic Adventures by Travel Bloggers in 2014 « Daily Nerdy

  3. KraftedKhaos

    Hey Earl, you asked about unexpected experiences/adventures while traveling, and since this just happened to us last week, I thought I’d share… my fiancee & I just returned from our first ‘international’ trip, 4 days/nights in Lucea, Jamaica. We stayed at an all inclusive resort (Palladium) which had several themed restaurants within. One particular restaurant (Xamaica) was supposed to be creole themed, and I’d seen a picture on-line of their menu, which featured several Conch dishes, something my fiancee really wanted to try on our trip. Imagine our disappointment to discover (after a 30 minute wait to be seated) that there was NO conch on the menu at all! We mentioned this to our waiter (whose name was Kennut) and he said ‘Well, I’m off work tomorrow, but I come back Friday. I will try to find some conch and have the chef prepare it for you for dinner. I can’t guarantee I’ll find any,” he said, “but I’ll see what I can do for you.” Friday night, the phone rang at 6 sharp, and it was Kennut, calling to say our dinner was ready for us. We get to the restaurant, and he had not only gotten the conch on his day off and had it prepared especially for us, but he’d also set up a table for two on a private balcony with candles, flower arrangements and a chilled bottle of wine!!! On top of all that, he refused to tell us how much the conch had cost him, telling us “Don’ worry about it, mon, I was happy to do this for you.” I was almost in tears. It was so totally unexpected, SO far above and beyond not only what was required, but what he had originally offered to do for us… at an all inclusive resort, no less, where you don’t even pay for your meals, and the staff sees hundreds of tourists every day… needless to say we were both blown away. On top of all THAT, he completely left the restaurant in search of a resort photographer when we mentioned that we’d forgotten our camera and wanted a picture with him! It wasn’t even like we’d left him a huge tip after our first meal. I don’t remember exactly what we left the first time, but I think it was only $3 or $4. Needless to say, we not only asked him to send the chef out for us to personally thank him for taking the time to prepare something special just for us and give him a $10 tip (after we made sure to ask whether it would be offensive to him or not), we left Kennut the remainder of the cash we had on us at the time, which was exactly $47, and still didn’t feel like it was enough to adequately express our gratitude for him making what had felt like an average vacation so far into one of the most spectacularly memorable moments either of us had experienced, not only on our vacation, but ever. We even gladly paid the outrageous resort cost of $15 for the photo of us with him, just to make sure we never forgot his face. That memory will stay with us forever. We made sure we stopped by the restaurant on our last night just to say thank you again, give him a hug, and tell him how special he had made our entire trip. For what was pretty much a cookie-cutter all-inclusive-resort vacation that hadn’t quite measured up to what I had dreamed my first out-of-country trip would be like, that one night, thanks to the selfless, kindhearted gesture of one man (OK, two if you count the chef), an average and a below-expectation vacation was instantly transformed into one of the best nights of our life and a forever-cherished memory.

    1. Wandering Earl

      That is simply a wonderful story and that’s what travel is all about, regardless of the style of travel you choose. All it takes is one person, one moment to change everything and to turn any situation into one that is forever memorable!

  4. Dan

    Nice story, me & my girlfriend are in Talas right now and will be travelling to Jalal-Abad on Tuesday, so we’ll definitely check out the spa you went to.

    Did you find a place there ok if you don’t mind me asking? I assume there are guest houses available, feel free to email me any details if you have them.

    Have fun in Kyrgyzstan, from what we’ve seen we really love it so far!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Dan – I didn’t see any guesthouses but you can contact the local CBT office and they’ll set you up with something good. I stayed at a great apartment in the center, had the whole place to myself for around $18 USD per night.

  5. Bama

    Wow Earl, who would have thought after 14 years of traveling you would experience such unforgettable kindness by local people who were simply excited to have a foreigner at their premise. I guess the culture of serving guests which is crucial in many cultures in Asia helps that because a while ago I read a similar experience by an Indonesian traveler in Tajikistan who was served like a important guest by his impoverished host.

  6. Rashad Pharaon

    Wow, that kind of hospitality is amazing. Never quite made it to Kyrgyzstan, but hope to in the next year.
    What spa did you stay at again? Are they ready for another foreigner? lol..

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Rashad – I didn’t actually stay there but it’s just the spa in Jalal-abad. Everyone knows it. It’s on top of the hill. Just ask for the ‘kurort’ (word they use for spa) and everyone will point it out!

  7. Silviu-Florin S.

    It sure looks like a different and authentic place, although I tend to recognize the marks of Communism that were visible in Romania some years ago…and still are sometimes. The mud treatment was fearless anyway, not tried that yet…

  8. Victoria

    What a great video Earl. I’ll have a mud treatment anytime. So good! It’s so nice when the locals are delighted with your presence and just light up to a random stranger. As a European traveller of darker hue, this has happened to me a few times as I’m not really the norm in Eastern Europe or Asia, for that matter LOL!

    Back in 2007, I went to a local market in Dalat, Vietnam and started poking around as you do. Young girls started following me around interested in what I was looking at and the market people began to encourage me to taste things. In no time at all, I had a group of shy young market women surrounding me, all smiling and wanting to know why I was so dark, wasn’t running around with an umbrella, and whether it hurt! Luckily, I had photographs of my German husband and son, family members, my home in Berlin and England. They were so interested in the quirky photos that I hand on me and there was a lot of laughing, smiling, touching my skin, “Welcome to Vietnam” and chats about family members. I had a great time there.

  9. Dave K

    I often find myself wondering what it would be like to walk the streets of exotic-to-me places. Thank you for that glimpse of the streets in Jalal-abad. Fascinating! I also enjoyed watching you all wrapped up like a Mexican tamale during your mud treatment. You were completely at their mercy! Can it be true that experience made you miss Mexico enough to leave Kyrgyzstan? 🙂

  10. Kyle

    You’re the man Earl! I wonder how many people are looking at you thinking “who is this crazy man in our small town” haha. I’m sure they’re can’t be many westerners there much less Americans. Loving the updates from Kyrgyzstan. I also agree with the rest of the posters, you’re videos are great they add a new dimension to the blog. Keep up the good work man!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Thanks Kyle and there really aren’t too many travelers in these parts. I imagine it would be more during the summer but still not a tremendous amount that’s for sure! Thanks for watching!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Stefanie – I understand that for sure. Luckily, and I know that most solo female travelers I know would agree, if you use the same common sense you use at home while traveling, the chances of anything happening are quite slim.

  11. Gilbert

    Thanks Earl for adding videos to your Blog … they add so much to the experience. Can’t wait for the next one. I have just add a place to visit on my ”bucket list”.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Gilbert – I thank you for watching! And glad Kyrgyzstan is on your list now, just make sure you make it to this spa as well. Well worth it!

  12. Bryan

    Another compliment never hurts, right? Love the videos! Words can take us so far to experiencing the travel of others and learning about new places. On the streets (or in the spa) videos take the experience so much further.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Bryan – I’m just glad that you enjoy the video since it’s a new idea and wasn’t sure how it would go. And I do agree, seeing things on camera (through video) sure does add a different dimension when it comes to learning about a particular destination.

  13. Mishfish13

    That is amazingly kind of them! I love moments like that because they remind you how human everyone is 🙂 Not gonna lie, I laughed seeing the screenshot of you wrapped in that treatment.

  14. Shaun

    Can’t say I’ve done a spa day but I had a Hamam in Istanbul, that’s gotta be close. I’m amazed at the kindness to travelers. What a great experience!

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Shaun – Yes, an afternoon at a Haman in Istanbul certainly is a great experience as well. Wish I could do it every day!

  15. Patricia

    Oh, I love these videos…what a great idea, I am so glad you added this. The pictures were always great (although never enough!) but the videos….oh, man, love them. My rambling and gambling days are not what they used to be (hitchhike through Europe in the sixties and seventies, anyone? Europe on $10 a day?) but you put the gleam back in my travel eye and soothed the traveling ache in my heart…..Thanks, Earl!

  16. Richelle

    This is great! It’s always amazing to meet people who are so excited to get to know you as a foreigner in their country. The mud treatment looks hilariously enjoyable. A few months ago I swam around in a mud pit in a cave in Guilin. A few other foreigners and I completely covered ourselves in mud and sprang out of the mud pit to scare pristinely-dressed Chinese tourists.

    1. Wandering Earl

      Hey Richelle – That must have been quite amusing! Not sure anyone would have wanted me to do that at this spa though. Running through the halls naked and covered in mud might have ended with being admitted to the mental hospital nearby.

  17. eli

    Nice post Earl.
    Love those moments when people are so generous to offer you things without paying. Even more amazing when you know that they don’t have much..
    Life is so nice without money :- )

  18. The Guy

    That is a great story Earl. The novelty of a foreign visitor was really appreciated.

    It reminds me a little bit of when I went to a small display/light show on the edges of Budapest. When I went to pay my way in the lady on the desk didn’t have a clue what I was saying. However her young daughter was incredibly excited to practise her English with me and was more than helpful.

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