Thursday, September 1, 2011

up we go!

it is about that time for my monthly update. =) I have spent a little over two weeks in almaty for training with my fellow Kaz 23s. Getting 53 americans together after our brief stays at site made for an interesting visit. Things were never dull, well except during our training sessions that lasted 9 hours everyday. Womp womp. But we made good use of our evenings together. I also managed to go to American Bar & Grill 3 times, which is quite impressive on my peace corps budget. But you really can’t put a price on a real cheeseburger and french-fries. I also indulged in a little pizza hut and some hardees. I promise I did more than eat though! Obviously it would take forever to relay all the stories from my trip, so I will just share my favorite in detail.

Whenever we go into to almaty for trainings we stay at a sanatorium called көк-тобе. It is a really strange little place, but I think it suits us perfectly. From the array of sparkling wallpaper designs, to the many statues in varying stages of decay, to the light menagerie that decorates the woods each night, it has become our home away from home. This sanetorium rests right at the base of the mountains that sorround the city. Directly behind our sanetorium is a tourist attraction on the top of the closest mountain, also called көк-тобе. You can pay 5,000 tenge a person to ride up from the city to the top in a gondola. Since we were busy spending our moolah on well-deserved, high quality food, we did not have the tenge to dish out for that ride. Apparently you can also take a bus up to the top, but how exciting could the bus ride be in comparison to flying over the mountain in a ski-lift? We decied the since it didn't seem that far away we would take our day off to hike up to the top.

Justin, Carrie, Brian, and I left the sanetorium at about 11 to begin our trek. We stopped at the 24 hour cafeteria nearby to fuel up first. I had a giant plate of rice which was suprisingly satisfying. We then began our journey. Justin naturally became our leader and took charge heading down various streets on the outskirts of the city. Our general thought was that if we were moving uphill we were on the right track. We took several roads that ended in deadends of private houses. At one point we actually ended up directly beneath one of the towers that the gondola travels on, so we thought for sure we getting warmer. We ended up at one more deadend. When we reached a clearing, we could see that all needed to do was to corss a valley filled with houses and we would be on our way up the clear stretch of mountain. Justin picked our route and we followed.

We thought we had reached another deadend because all that was at the end of the road were two big fenced in houses. Luckily at that moment, a Kazakh man that lives in one of the houses came out to get into his car. He must have known eactly what we were up to (maybe the waterbottles, backbacks, and tennis shoes gave it away) and yelled to say hello to the mountain for him at us in kazakh and then started pointing back near his house. It took me a moment to realize that Carrie and Justin both do not speak Kazakh so they had no idea what he was saying. Not that me knowing was any help. We all wandered towards the back gate of his house where it looked like he was pointing and thought maybe he was going to let us cut through his backyard. He quickly stopped us and came over to lift a bush that was covering a very overgrown path. I don't know if we would have ever found a cut-through without him. I wonder how often he becomes an unofficial guide for tourists trying to find their way up the mountain.

We followed the path that led downhill to a little creek. After we crossed the creek we reached another big house on another road. In the bushes right before we hit the house we heard a chicken yelling at us. I bent down to get a closer look and found baby chicks! They were so adorable. We came out of the woods and followed the road until we reached a giant highway. Just beyond the highway was the foot of the mountain. We crossed the right side of the highway, jumped the fence in the median, and crossed the left side of the highway to reach the other side. We followed the road for a bit until we came to a dirt path that we could see wound up the side of the mountain. The dirt path was rather steep, but when it finally leveled out we could see the entire city stretched out before us. It was incredible. We continued following the trail wrapping around the side of the mountain.

It wasn't long before we reached a herd of goats! I am still amazed at this city that is so modern and bustling, yet still has herds of goats in the mountains just minutes away. When we got closer we could see that there were two paths. The herd of goats was blocking one path around the side of the mountains so we started up the path further up the mountain. At that moment the shepard and his bull came down the path towards us. The shepard yelled something at us that we didn't understand and then continued on to go stand by his herd. The bull stopped in his tracks and stared at us. I froze. Our options were heading towards the bull, tumbling down the mountain, or towards the herd of goats. Looking back on it the choice to make seems clear, but we stood there a hot minute to think about it. At one point Brian actually started up the path towards the bull and we all had to scream at him to stop. Carrie was hurriedly telling us about the story she read that ended in the main character getting gored by a bull. It was a tense moment. Since I had run the farthest away from the bull, I was now at the front to lead us towards the goats. I hate to admit that my knowledge of goats is limited. I wasn't sure if I was safe or not, all I knew was I should not have been the one leading the way around them. I tried to say hello in Kazakh to the shepard, but he just grunted at me in return. The goats frantcially jumped away from me and our path was clear.

We continued on the path until we reached a clearing at the top of the mountain/hill. It was amazing! The mountains were on one side of us and the city was on the other. If we get a chance all of us said that we would love to camp out there. It has the feeling of being completely isolated, like our own personal oasis. We followed the beautiful scenery until we reached a fence that blocked in a rollercoaseter? That's right. Isn't that what you would expect to fnd at the top of the mountain? The sign on the fence said something about not walking around the fence and a video camera (in russian), but we had no choice. We just had to decide which way to follow the fence. We went to the right because we (I think I actaully made this call, sorry guys!) thought it looked like it led to the entrance for көк-тобе. Along the fence the ground was covered in dry straw that made it very slippery and the hill was very steep. I imainge that if I had slipped I would have continued rolling until I reached the highway at the bottom. It took us about 30 minutes to follow along two sides of the fence. Along the way we discovered an old abanadoned staircase and a hole that belonged to some animal I would not like to meet. Above the hole a animal's skull of some sort was staked on the fence. When we finally made it to the end of the fence we realized that it just ended. Probably because it ran into the side of the mountain covered in a brush that no one could possiblly get through. I'm sure whoever was monitoring those cameras was having a good time watching us struggle to come to that discovery. Ha.

We took a few pictures to document the hilarity of the situation and did the only thig we could do, turned around and went back. When we got back to square one we were all sweaty, thirsty messes. I could feel the sunburn stretching across the freckles on my nose and cheeks. We headed around the other side of the fence and after only five minutes we could see a bustling sidewalk just above us. Justin said he felt a bit like Jaemes Bond climbing out of the woods and onto the side walk, but I did not feel like a Bond girl at all. We hopped over the railing and literally stumbled into a sidewalk full of families and couples out for the day to enjoy the weather and attractions. Everyone was dressed in their best summer day outfits and I was wearing workout shorts that showed the scratches all down my legs from walking through the brush, and a bright teal workout tee just to make sure no one would miss me. My hair was tossed up in a messy bun with strands plastered around my face with sweat. To say I stook out like a sore thumb was an understatment. My excitement at making it to the top quickly took over any insecruty I may have felt at first with all eyes on me.

I don't know what I was expecting to be at көк-тобе, but whatever it was it defintiely wasn't what we found. көк-тобе is actually a very fancy tourist spot. It has games, cotton candy, and icees, along with an upscale restaurant, a zoo!, a fountain with a golden apple, a bench with statues of the beatles?, and booths that line the sidewalk selling traditional Kazakh items. After sitting in the shade for a while to cool off, Carrie and I made a beeline for the booths. Even with our little allowence, shopping hasn't left my blood just because I am living in Kazakhstan. Carrie found a neat little dagger that looks super fancy. I found a little purse (which I have been needing!) made out of teal and white felt with colorful felt flowers and a camel and sun set across a straw fence. It has KAZAKHSTAN embroidered across the bottom in black. I am absolutely in love with it, just looking at it makes me happy. It is the perfect mixture of hippie, boho, and Kazakh. After that we went to the restaurant and got a seat out on the back deck. The deck hangs over the side of the mountain enough so that it looks as if you are floating over the city. The view is impossible to describe. The families and couples all around us were eating fancy salads, huge plates of steaks and ribs, smoking hookah, and drinking pretty cocktails. I don't think much on that meu was within our peace corps budget, but it was just our luck that the milkshakes were! We each ordered a milkshake and when they got to our table we looked picture perfect sitting over the city with the strawberry, chocolate, and vanilla milkshakes sitting in front of us. Defintely what you think of when you imagine peace corps, right? =)

After our shakes we wandered around the top for an hour or so. We strolled along the zoo and made a stop to see the beatles, of course. When we finally ducked back into the woods, Justin darted down the hill and for a moment he really did look just like James Bond. We got lost again on the way home, but we managed to find our way and we got back to the sanetorium much faster on the way down. My camera was dead for the adventure, but Carrie took lots of pics for all of us. As soon as I get them from her, I will be sure to post them.

Your sweaty, Kazakh-speaking, Bond girl,

1 comment:

  1. Yay for adventures in other languages! I'm so impressed with your Kazakh translating skills. Can't wait til next month's installment!