Barskaun and Aalam Ordo

by Don  

It is Saturday. I wake up and see this view.

Barskaun and Aalam Ordo

Anyone who has grown up in the southwest has seen a thousand similar sights. The only thing missing is cactus, and even that is not lack is not immediately obvious.

We have a breakfast of fried eggs and bread, hot tea and coffee, and then we head to the river Barskaun. The ride is probably 90 minutes-ish. The generic landscape is as barren as I-10 thirty miles east of Indio, with the exception of the places they irrigate, which are flourishing farmland. Eventually we start ascending into the mountains. Mountain slopes slowly accumulate grass and shrub. Eventually stands of trees appear. Finally we arrive at a place from which we can hike to some waterfalls.

This was one of the favorite places of Yuri Gagarin, commonly regarded as the first man in space. Not far away is a military training center where he trained. The four waterfalls were supposedly one of his favorite places. Where we park, there is a dignified monument to him.

Barskaun and Aalam Ordo

Across the road is another image carved in his honor in a boulder.

Barskaun and Aalam Ordo

The images are a creation of national pride and gaucherie, distracting one from the natural beauty, . It makes me sad they are here. Of course we take countless pictures.

That aside, this place is as beautiful as any I have ever seen. Grass covered mountain slopes interplay with stands of trees. A few entrepreneurial types have set up yurts and have brought horses with them, which they rent to visitors. The Barskaun, a snow-fed, frigid stream, chatters happily nearby. A mare and her foal nibble on the local grasses. There is a feeling of wholeness and sanity to the place that delights the heart.

Barskaun and Aalam Ordo

We ascend to the first waterfall. The hike is short and beautiful, but quite steep. I regret not having real hiking boots. When we reach the waterfall, miniscule drops of water hesitate in the air. Thick slabs of moss create little shelves here and there. Rocks provide a resting place. We pause.

Barskaun and Aalam Ordo

We move on to the second waterfall. More beauty.

Barskaun and Aalam Ordo

We pause to lunch. There is a set of women here who have bikinis under their hiking clothes, plus two men in atypically short shorts. They enter the pool at the bottom of the waterfall and perform their ablutions. Folks, this is snow melt...

We return to our bus, and head to Skazka ravine. Skazka in Russian means fairy tale. In a fit of sarcasm the previous evening I had told the students it would be magical... We arrive. The day previous there was an incredible rain storm that had flooded the road with sand and water; only the thick sand remains. Our trusty bus cannot make it the whole way, but our driver insists that the remaining distance is only 100 meters. People from the fUSSR are completely incapable of making rational estimates of time or distance; it was at least half a kilometer. We reach the starting point and climb the most curious path. Imagine two slices of sedimentary-aggregate rock rendered vertical by continental drift, between which is 6-10 feet of climbing space. We ascend.

Barskaun and Aalam Ordo

At the top is in fact a lovely view of the pale rose and yellow rocks and cliffs.

Barskaun and Aalam Ordo

Still, I'm an Arizona boy. Having seen the Grand Canyon and Sedona, Skazka doesn't seem so much magical as simply... sorta vaguely kinda interesting for someone from out East who has never really seen anything like it before. The path thereto has been a bit awkward. Not all of us want to press on to the next point. A few do, and we can observe them from our stony perch. Actually, it strikes me that the second path is easier, even though I myself do not attempt it. I'm half tempted to come again, just to try the second route.

From there we get back on the bus to head to Aalam Ordo, which was originally intended to be a cultural exposition built on the shore of Issyk-Kul in honor of a previous president. The president was run out of the country, and money for the project dried up.

Barskaun and Aalam Ordo

It remains incomplete. The lake itself of course is impressive, but the enormous fading mosaics and empty yurts induce melancholy. The place remains a monument to natural beauty and the failed dreams of a greedy politician who didn't actually care for the people of his country.

Despite the latter gloomy observations, there is a pier here in excellent repair, from which one can dive into the suprisingly clear water without fear of hitting the bottom. Our students shuck down to their what-nots and dive in. Marvelous. There is a fairly dicey ladder to get up on the pier from the water; most likely it was intended as decorative ironwork. The water is frigid and marvelous. Foma dives to the bottom and manages to grab a handful of sand. Raquel swears she always hits bottom, which is unlikely considering that all our most athletic students have dived in headfirst and failed to do so. Raquel assays a timid jump in, and manages to hit the bottom. Let this be a lesson to us all about timidity.

The most physically fit of our group is most likely Caillie. My guess is that she is about 6' 1", and she is an aspiring body builder. (I mentally name her наша амазонка ‘our Amazon.’ She really does have the whole Lynda Carter thing going on, but with shorter hair.) She runs every morning, even when we are on excusions. She easily outdoes all of the guys in pull-ups, using the skeleton of the roof at pier's end as a pull-up bar. She dives from the highest height. Plus she is just damn smart. Let me tell you: when the nuclear apocalypse hits, I want to be on her side.

Then suddenly a young Kyrgyz man appears. He is quite short, but as fit as the day is long. He jumps off the pier, executing a jacknife. Then another appears, doing the same with a swan dive from the skeleton of the former roof. Then a couple more who are more timid appear. And then there is a repetition of showing off. Something seems odd. Eventually it becomes clear that these are young men with sexual designs on the women in our group. They particularly direct their attention to Mikal, a girl who has chosen to wear a bikini top so thin as to reveal her nipples. She is a great swimmer, a nice person, has a bright mind, but on this occasion her clothing has attracted negative attention that she probably doesn't want. Truthfully, it is not a smart thing to wear in a country that is unreformed by feminism. I'm rather surprised that she doesn't seem to be aware of it. I find myself concerned about the collective group of young Y chromosomes that has appeared. So is our language coach, Rustam. I decide it is time to leave and so direct the students. We gather ourselves and begin to depart. Many of our male students have already left. I ask one of the students from Texas A&M to remain with me so we can provide a male rear vanguard to our retreat. He agrees, and I find myself grateful for his consideration. As we leave, the catcalls and shouts of "I love you, baby!" begin. I'm think the timing of our departure was good. We leave without incident.

Homeward we arrive. A dinner of watery laghman, noodles covered with a soupy-meaty addition, commences. Very nice.

Most of the students head to the shore for last minute swimming and a bonfire.

Hours later we sleep content.

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