26 year old Canadian, Dutch resident travelling to every country in the world (111 so far) to become the first Canadian female to visit them all. Bestselling travel AUTHOR and founder of popular #TRLT Twitter chat.
Hours later, we rolled into a small town where we stopped to repair a flat tire.
The men who came to help us all sported tall kalpaks, traditional hats made of off-white felt, generally with fashionable, thick black stitch work. Men from the rural Kyrgyzstan ethnic groups in the south wore them.
She presented us with a beautiful green melon for a small fee, and I began salivating.
After repairs were completed, we found ourselves driving around the town’s side streets. Making occasional pit stops was normal during long-distance journeys, but randomly driving down narrow neighbourhood alleys was not. I knew something wasn’t right.
Small veggie stand
They say a quarter of the world’s heroin goes through Central Asia on its way to Russia and Europe.
Apparently there was much more to know about this ancient Silk Road in the twenty-first century than I had initially anticipated. I wondered if anyone from home was learning these kinds of things from their textbooks.
Now that we’ve seen this, does it mean they have to get rid of us? I quickly buried my face in the pages of my book. I’m not here. I didn’t see anything. I swear it.
The combination of the dealer’s insanely unsafe driving and then this was by no means earning him any brownie points in our books.
On the way to Osh.
Chapter #17 “Trucker’s Purgatory”
From Osh, we planned to re-enter China at a remote western border crossing – the lesser used of the two crossings into China from Kyrgyzstan. The scenery along the way featured numerous high passes and stupendous views of Tajikistan’s Pamir mountain range.
The mountains were barren and brown, but the deep grooves etched in their sides exposed their age and added a unique kind of character.
Gorgeous scenery aside, this segment of the trip didn’t go as smoothly as we’d hoped. It was supposed to be a seven-hour trip, but we were already well into our tenth hour on the road.
Large semis transporting scrap metal had rocked down these roads for many years, leaving car-sized potholes that nearly swallowed us whole.
“I have no idea, but according to the map and the last sign I saw, it looks like we’re nowhere close to the border,” Ammon said.
The room was nothing more than a square box with a bunch of musty blankets piled onto wooden planks where all seven of us would sleep together.
The sounds of loud airbrakes and engines woke us early. This settlement was like a truckers’ purgatory with nothing around but dust and huge trucks carrying scrap metal across the border.
Chapter #18 “Night Runs”
We were staying in a Chinese hostel in one of two adjoining rooms that shared a bathroom.
“All I can say is, that better happen before the Sunday Market. You’ve got three days.
Chapter #19 “Cause and Effect”
I spent some time reading a bit of Ammon’s Lonely Planet book and had some trouble figuring out some pronunciations, particularly Uyghur.
“If you want my advice, I’d say cover up and put on some more clothes.”
“Everyone stares at us anyway,” Mom commented as we walked into the open square, where a big statue of Mao looked out over us. “They’d stare no matter what we wore. We just look different, particularly you, Ammon, being that you’re so tall.”
Most of the women were wearing long skirts with baggy shirts with collars, or colourful, muumuu-like dresses with large prints. Their hair was covered with a headscarf or a kerchief tied behind their necks.
Even the men wore long dress pants, worn and dusty dress shoes, and the traditional rounded or squared skullcaps; these beautifully stitched hats were known as doppas.
Here, the old city and language were predominantly Uyghur. Signs were written in Chinese or in an Arabic-based script, both of which were impossible for us to decipher.
Mixed scripts on the signs.
The overwhelming Muslim presence, with mosques everywhere and women in headscarves, made us feel wary and somewhat excluded. Part of that feeling of unease was because of all the negativity associated with the 9/11 attacks at New York’s World Trade Centre; we’d unintentionally let the media influence our first impressions.
“But I got used to the Muslim influence pretty quickly,” Mom had announced before leaving Osh. It would have been almost impossible not to revise our negative attitudes, given all the friendly, smiling faces and helpful people we’d run into in the markets of Osh and now again here in Kashgar.
“I actually love the mosque and this Middle Eastern style of architecture,” Ammon commented, as if he’d been reading my mind. He snapped yet another picture of Kashgar’s exotic Id Kah Mosque, the largest one in China.
Chapter # 20 “The Ways Of Old And New”
To Ammon’s dismay, we had to spend ten yuan to take a taxi to Sunday’s livestock market, which was the biggest in Central Asia.
“I always thought donkeys were so cute and sweet,” I said, “but I’m not so sure anymore.” I found that I wasn’t so sure about a lot of things as we continued to explore Kashgar’s famous Sunday Market that day.
A black cow with a white face was riding with four calves in a large truck-bed with metal side bars, pulled by a rusty blue tractor. Their faces were tied so tightly that the cow couldn’t even nudge the calves with her nose to offer even the slightest reassurance.
But when I saw the sheep being brought in like canned sardines, I realized the cows were the lucky ones.
Young men hoping to make some money showed up in three-wheeled motorcycle trucks transporting perhaps half-a-dozen sheep tied down in the back, and that was only a moderately sized load.
Sheep, cows, donkeys, and horses were tied up in different areas to be inspected, test ridden, and haggled over.
The Uyghur men formed a cloud of doppas and faded, dirty blue or grey suits as they perched over their sea of four-legged merchandise.
“I mean, honestly, how do any of these people sell their sheep when there are a hundred other guys selling them, too?” Ammon said as we walked down the long rows of sheep that were tied to parallel ropes, facing each other with their necks interlocked in a criss-crossed zipper pattern.
We sauntered over to the horse section, which was comparatively much quieter. The horses were decorated with lots of bells and colourful ribbons to mimic the loud havoc of riding through the city.
We climbed up onto a high stone wall to get a bird’s-eye view of the action.
He zoomed in to snap a candid shot and was pretty pleased with the result, until I pointed out his mistake, saying, “Ammon, I think most people actually call those kid-sized horses ‘donkeys’.”
I wondered if he’d seen the old town in the same light that we did. I imagined the ageless carpenter shop with its stacks of wood piled high outside the brick cubbyhole, just the same as it must have been in that ancient time.
The present-day old city was crammed with specialty shops, either on wheeled stalls or in small brick nooks and crannies.
I had to stop at the shoemaker where, for just a few cents, I could have my black flip-flop repaired for the second time
A man was busy working on a foot-powered knife sharpener wearing a pair of clear protective glasses similar to those you’d find in a kid’s Nerf gun set.
“Check out our first follower,” Ammon said, indicating the little old woman Mom had attracted. Mom is just five foot, three inches tall, and this woman only came up to her shoulders.She wore a long, black-and-white, floral skirt and a zebra-patterned headscarf.
The young girl followed us through the streets, practicing her English, trying to hear the difference between ‘I’ and ‘R’. She repeated them over and over, literally looking in Mom’s mouth to see how she pronounced them.
Ammon spotted an old man resting in the shade, squatting with his back against a concrete wall. He wore a long blue dress coat and a traditional hat, and he sported a beautiful, chest-length white beard.
An entire section of the market was jam-packed with hanging sheep and lamb carcasses, pink and still wet from having recently been skinned.
“I guess we found out where all the sheep went,” Mom said, always the realist.
Piles of sheep’s heads looked up at us with glossy, distant eyes, waiting to be thrown into a soup pot.
It was a day of gratitude; I vowed to be thankful for what I do have instead of moaning about what I don’t have.