Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Biking around Issyk-Kul Day2: Ananyevo to Bosteri

March 25, 2006

I started out the second day of my ride wondering if I could get my legs to work for another day. Luckily, my planned ride – from Ananyevo to Bosteri, was modest. And I could look forward to a night in a sanatorium, complete with swimming pool filled with heated Issyk-Kul water.

In this segment, which covered the middle region of the northern edge, I moved through a greater variety of landscapes than on the first day. I started out on the poplar-lined road filled with cawing ravens. Then I moved past fields and collective farms and into a region filled with orchards. Small trees with tangled branches spread from the road to the lake on one side, and from the road to the mountains on the other. Clouds floated lazily above the snow capped peaks. Just a little snow dotted the fields, the last barrier to spring.

I spent my day listening to the birds and to the clomping of horses hooves, as a couple of children, or a family, would pass me in a horse-pulled wagon. In the village of Grigorievka, I watched boys playing soccer. In the village of Karagai-Bulak, I stopped to look at an ancient grave near a soccer field. The palace-like sand structure had probably stood for hundreds of years. And the grassy bumpy mounds nearby probably contained some kind of buried archeological treasures.

At my slow pace, I had time to look carefully at the graveyards as I passed – the structures shaped like mosques, like castles, and like towers. I noticed the many early deaths – the people who departed at age 15, 20, 30. And I noticed the prevelance of tombstones for people who died in their 40s or 50s. That seemed to be the median.

Shortly after Semyonovka, I saw a large white monument to Sadir-Ake (1821-1905). I don’t know who Sadir-Ake is, but it seemed to be the expensive monument built by the reputed Issyk-Kul bandit Rysbek. My taxi driver told me that Rysbek spent a million dollars on the monument. It was hard to believe it cost that much, but still, lugging marble to Issyk-Kul was probably not a cheap venture and the monument looks rather ostentatious on the shoreline, especially when illuminated at night.

After Grigorievka, the population became denser and I entered the smell of burning leaves and garbage. The road approached the lake and followed right along the barren, rocky shore, dotted with sheep. I could see the rocks beneath the turquoise water. On my right, orchards rose up to cloudy, snow-capped mountains.

Just past the place where the Kyrgyz and Kazakh leaders have lakeside homes, I found a mini tourist attraction, a revolving platform on a mountainside. I climbed up the stairs, passing a couple of middle-aged Kyrgyz women enroute. They were singing national Kyrgyz songs and swayed with light inebriation.

When I reached the top, I looked out at the sparkling mass of Issyk-Kul. Light blue streaks wove through dark blue, as though a paintbrush had moved through. I looked to either side and couldn’t see an end to the lake. The water seemed so still, so beautiful, and so remote from the life around it. It felt like an impressive journey to encircle this body of water, to mark with my presence an area that seems boundless.

Turning in the other direction, on the moving platform that only moves in summer, I looked out over red rock moving into snow-capped peaks.

I saw the images I’d viewed along the way, the people I’d met, in fragments, isolated parts of a whole that compose my image of Issyk-Kul, a private filmstrip that comes out differently for each person on each visit.

I spent the night at the Kyrgyzski Vozmore, a sanatorium popular among locals and Russians. It had a bit of a run-down, Soviet feel, but I loved the view of the lake I had from my balcony.

Guests eat dinner together during a one-hour dinner period. The administrator sat me with two women and a young girl. I learned that one woman was an economist and had come with her 13-year-old for a week. Both of them had red cheeks from their walk along the lake. The other woman had a daughter married to a US soldier and living in Watertown, New York. She waited for her daughter to reunite the family.

They told me that the sanatorium had hosted a concert at dinner the previous night in observance of the one-year anniversary of the revolution. I asked if it felt like a holiday concert to them.

“It felt like a day of rest,” the economist said, “but not as a holiday. So many people suffered. And the Turks lost everything in Beta Stores.”

She told me that she lives in an apartment in the city center. “My daughter was home alone with a friend. She stood on the balcony and watched everything.” She shook her head, ashamed.

“There were so many young men and they were really loud,” her blond daughter said. “It was scary.”

As the sun set, the guests played pool, table tennis and pinball, the sky and water turned pastel, and the world quieted.

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