‘When riding a motorbike, assume that anyone on the road tries to kill you‘ – a good friend’s advice crossed in mind in Kyrgyzstan more then anywhere else before. Kyrgyz are the worst drivers ever – in my experience. That is, riding cars and trucks. Riding their horses is a very different story: it looks smooth, controlled, passionate. Men being drunk around the clock might have something to do with their performance on the road … that again, could be related to a bottle of vodka being cheaper than a cup of coffee. Never would I have thought that this central Asian country, which I imagined to be nature-pure, would become the first one where my personal boundaries were put to the test. My respect for other cultures is great, and I always keep in mind that I’m a guest, a visitor, a stranger – wherever I go. But when men almost drive me from the road, down the hill, start pushing and pulling my bike, yelling to me like crazy, disgusting me with their alcohol smelling breath when they come just a bit too close, just because they want to take a picture of me – there is a limit to my kindness.
Yes, Kyrgyzstan has beautiful – picture perfect– landscapes: green hills, snow-peaked mountains in the background, powerful horses and picturesque yurts, children in colorful clothes. But giving it a closer look, you’ll see many of those yurts being made from or covered by plastic sheets, instead of natural textiles. Children don’t only hold up their hands to greet you, but also to ask for money.
With the recently eased visa regulations, Kyrgyzstan is expected to become the place-to-be for lovers of the great outdoors. I can see why, but I regret that exactly that is already ruining the authentic beauty of the country.
Of course, I also had nice encounters! For example 4-5 women in a small road-side restaurant, looking at me and talking about me among each other. They asked about my age – got confused by me putting some fingers in the air, then imaginary writing them down on the table. If they could see my passport … no problem. Then one of the women comes to stay next to me, gesturing: you and me, where are the same age. She smiles, and I smile too. Next question: how many children I have. None (I’m still smiling). Her face turns serious. None? None. Zero? Zero. Really? Really, yes I’m absolutely sure. She has 5… I have a motorbike, I try to make up for the disapproval, but it doesn’t seem to count. The differences in life choices are not always well understood nor appreciated, yet I know that they have at least something else to talk about for the afternoon.
While women usually point out the need for offspring, men spontaneously invite me to sleep with them. The security guard at the bank, the police officer, the shop owner, the gas station attendant… a kind but firm ‘no’ from my side is usually accepted without further hassle. But I know other female travelers face more persistent (read: immodest) guys; hearing their experiences makes me more aware of my personal safety as well. That alone, shouldn’t even be necessary, should it? Why can’t people simply respect each other, and their personal boundaries? So far I haven’t felt unsafe as a solo female traveler at all, but (totally unexpected) some men in Kyrgyzstan were pushing me towards that point. A shame, and hopefully just bad luck.
Back to the beauty of the country. When I was there in June, there was still a lot of rain – snow and hail at higher altitudes – but even that made up for some impressive scenery.
Horses being a center point in society, the Kyrgyz people truly show how to handle them. When I’m taking a plunge in Karakol lake, one young rider shows off with his horse: he steers the animal along the shore, picking up speed as they come closer to me. Water splashing up in the sunlight, the horse fully focused and responding to the rider’s subtle spurs. Man and horse move together almost as being one; smoothly, in sync and like an ongoing energetic explosion. Wow! To witness even only that would be reason enough to visit Kyrgyzstan. They disappear up the hill, and I turn back to my bath: an enormous lake, crystal clear water, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Yes, picture perfect.