I drove a car through Kyrgyzstan once. It was a sport utility vehicle, a good-natured mass of steel, glass and plastic, and it did pretty well on the mountain roads with their mudholes and potholes. One time I got it stuck in a ditch though, and it somehow ripped the exhaust pipe, causing the poor thing to become unbearably loud. Heads would turn, making driving a bit of an embarrassment. But it was a good car anyway.
The country felt like a dream. There were long winding roads with panoramic views. There were cows gazing into the distance. Horses and sheep. Blossoms covered with ice.
When I arrived in Arslanbob, the walnut groves were covered in snow. The lake Chatyr-Kul turned out to be behind a border checkpoint that required a special permit and only allowed visits for a limited time, but when you went in you could see China on the other side of a simple fence. Osh felt like a country within a country. Tash Rabat was as old as it was spooky. And Chatyr-Kul was the most beautiful lake of them all.
But Son-Kul was the place where I got the poor car stuck in a ditch. I was driving at night, and the ditch was a gaping hole in the middle of the road. When I saw it, it was already too late.
The night brought coldness and stars.
The next day I ran into a group of fishermen who not only helped pull out my car but also invited me to lunch. They told me they had worked blue-collar jobs in Moscow before, but life was better up here, so eventually they had returned. They would go down to the city once a week to sell their catch. During the rest of the week, they would row their boats around the lake in the mornings, and after that there was apparently not much to do. They had strong arms from all the rowing. The money was good, and they had a power generator for their freezer, but no TV. I found a couple of empty vodka bottles next to their yurta.
So is this a stress-free life? I wanted to know.
"Yes", they said. Just one word: yes.
For lunch, they served fried fish along with onions, bread and caviar. The fish was fresh from the lake, and so was the caviar. They would eat some and sell some. Also, part of the fish eggs would be given to a wildlife conservation project. Someone had introduced large predatory fish to their lake in the past, and now the indigenous species were having a hard time and needed some assistance.
"How much do you think this caviar is worth?" one of the fishermen asked me while we were eating.
I looked at my spoon, at the shiny orange pearls that were fish-eggs. I had no idea how much they were worth.
"Well, down in the city we sell this for 50 dollars for 100 grams."
Oh, I said, wondering how many grams were in my spoon.
He smiled, and it was a sly smile, a smile that said he was going to let me in on a well-kept secret: "You know, up here", he said, "I eat 200 grams every day!"
You are a rich man, I said.
"Rich", he said and took another spoonful, "yes, rich."
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This footage was taken in October 2014 in Kyrgyzstan, namely at Son-Kul lake (Соңкөл), Tash Rabat caravanserai (Таш Рабат), Chatyr-Kul lake (Чатыркөл), Osh (Ош), Sary-Chelek lake (Сарычелек), Toktogul Reservoir (Токтогул), Arslanbob forest (Арстанбап).
▶Shot with: DSLR 15mm + 55mm
▶Soundtrack: Liferock - "New Horizons"
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