Thursday, March 28, 2013

March 24, 2013

Having gone to bed at a reasonable time insured that I’d be up at the crack of dawn on Sunday. I made my 3-1 coffee and caught up with my emails and Facebook postings while waiting for Holly and Valerie to get up as we were scheduled to depart early for the tourist destination nearby: Turkestan. I noticed while brushing my teeth that my face was covered with red marks that were beginning to swell and they continued down my neck, shoulders and arms. Mosquitoes had been feasting on me while I was trying to sleep.

Holly told me the guys, mostly Max I should mention, had cooked spaghetti with meat sauce the night before. I was really glad I hadn’t left the comfort of  my monastic cell to partake of that delicacy. I prepared myself a bowl of muesli with the addition of nuts and dried fruit and even though it wasn’t as sweet as the one I regularly buy in Bishkek, it turned to be quite tasty.

We took a bus to meet the guys at the terminal under overcast skies and slight breeze. Bill and James were able to negotiate a marshrutka just for the six of us for about $8.00 a head and we off we went through some areas completely deserted of vegetation, houses or animals. It wasn’t a desert per se, but there was nothing out there to even look at.

The road started out as wide four lane highway and subsequently turned into a two-lane one with patches where the pavement had disappeared entirely and only dirt remained. Workers were building what appeared to be overpasses when no road still existed down below. We then drove over gravel, more dirt and finally another paved portion before pulling into the city three hours later.

By this time, the weather had turned decidedly chilly with high winds and dark skies. I had only brought my sweatshirt and felt pretty miserable. We used the bathroom at the beginning of what appeared to be a long row of vendors selling scarves for the women to cover their heads before entering the mosque and other souvenirs.

A dirt path led to the mosque, which appeared completely unremarkable from the outside as it featured a dun-colored exterior and no landscaping whatsoever all around. We went inside and found that the only thing to look at was an ancient giant bowl someone had donated to the mosque. All the other rooms were bare and others were blocked off as if ready to be remodeled.

Max couldn’t contain his disappointment as we looked around and couldn’t find anything else to see until we spied a group of four camels pasturing near the mosque. He took off in that direction followed by James and Valerie and insisted on touching them while I took photos from afar. We were hungry by then and found another Halal kitchen nearby which offered lagman and shish kebabs.

James called Holly to let her know we’d be heading to the museum nearby, a bland building near the mosque. Max ignored the clerk at the entrance and walked into the foyer where a huge yurt sat and then refused to pay the 500 tengue note to be admitted. We all decided that the contents might not be that appealing and everything would be labeled in Russian and Kazakh anyway.

The city had nothing else to offer and we begged Holly and Bill to just find us another marshrutka to return to Shymkent. At first, we were given conflicting instructions as to where to find one, but we finally got into a bus headed to the terminal and into a marshrutka where I lost my fight to sit near the window as a young woman, who apparently knew the driver, argued she had reserved that seat earlier on.

Everyone in the group went to sleep as soon as the marshrutka got underway except for me who was jammed between a corpulent driver with dragon breath and the woman near the window. The ride seemed interminable for there was nothing to break up the monotony of the landscape and I didn’t even have anyone to talk to. We got back to Shymkent by six and I asked Holly to take us to her favorite Uzbek restaurant for plov as she had promised the day before.

We had a decent dinner while sharing stories and jokes. My arms started to itch terrible and took off my sweatshirt to find that my elbow area had swollen considerably as the bites had run into each other by now. I asked Holly to please point to a pharmacy on the way home for me to buy some kind of ointment to placate the itch.

We walked home from the restaurant, I took a shower and got to bed after pulling out my new pantsuit from the suitcase and setting it out over the bookcase for the wrinkles to hopefully disappear overnight.

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