The trip from Bishkek to Arslanbob took about eight hours – not bad by our standards. Plus we had working windows. And we only broke down once. As per usual we arrived at our destination after dark with no accommodation booked. But this time, instead of stumbling around under the weight of our backpacks searching for someone to take us in, we were pleasantly surprised to find an English speaking member of Community Based Tourism (CBT) waiting for us. Apparently word of three American girls travels fast here.
CBT is a wonderful initiative that exists throughout Kyrgyzstan, connecting travelers with the local community through homestays, organized treks, skiing trips, general advice, etc. Our CBT representative turned out to be the boss, a charming man named Hayat. He led us back to his office, where we were able to choose from 18 homestays ranging from $7-8 per night including breakfast. While I imagine that they are all equally fantastic, we chose #18 and were blown away by the hospitality, scenery and food. Some of the best meals we’ve had in Central Asia. Seriously.
Arslanbob itself is stunning yet serene, something out of a fairytale. With Silvia spending the day with our host family, Sasha and I set out to find the famous walnut forest – the largest in the world apparently. Yet for all of the tourism it attracts, there were no signs. That, combined with the fact that I’m a thoroughly subpar navigator meant that we spent the entire day climbing (sometimes on all fours) off-trail, up the sides of mountains. Just as we were ready to give up on the forest we reached the top of a mountain and came across a beautiful farm bordered by snow capped mountains and…….walnut trees!
We collapsed, panting, onto the ground. Apparently quite an unusual sight to the owners of the farm who were busy harvesting potatoes. In a conversation of broken Russian we asked if we could rest there for a while. Before long we were assisting in the potato harvest, drinking chai and sharing a meal with our new friends – all to the tune of Selena Gomez’s I Love You Like A Love Song, which was blasting from the daughter’s MP3 player on repeat, naturally. A perfect night and a perfect example of the Central Asian hospitality that we keep experiencing.
Kyrgyzstan Volunteer Opportunity!!
The CBT office in Arslanbob is always looking for volunteers to teach the staff English. Volunteers pay about $6/day for meals but accommodation is provided. Additionally, they will be able to join activities offered by CBT free of charge. This is an excellent opportunity for anyone looking to improve their Russian, learn about Kyrgyz/Uzbek culture, conduct research, have an authentic Central Asian experience and so much more. For more information, contact Hayat.
Shared taxi from Bishkek to Bazaar Kargon, $24. Marshutka from Bazar Kargon to Arslanbob, $1.50.