Today’s story is brought to you by Kamil and was submitted to the internal Sant Jordi contest for eDreams Odigeo employees.
Kamil was born in Poland almost 0x20 years ago. One half of his life he was programming and dreaming about travel, the other he was traveling and dreaming about programming. Among his most hilarious achievements are: climbing Kilimanjaro, reenacting Marco Polo’s footsteps in reverse, getting a PhD and being the second person ever to go around the world with Low Cost Carriers.
“Ah! A cool breeze! How nice.” I lied to myself. True, I had suffered a lot of heat over the past month, three deserts worth of it to be exact. Still, this chill brought me no relief.
The last local I came across told me clearly: “It takes me 90 minutes to reach the lake.” That was 4 hours ago. “How do you say ‘horse’ in Russian? Maybe he meant ‘by horse’?” I tried to make sense of it, but there was no hiding the obvious, I was lost. My realization hit me right about when the sun touched the edge of the valley.
So how can you get lost in today’s day and age? Everything is mapped, satellites, surveillance, nothing is hidden, nothing left unexplored. However, Pamirs are a different beast; firmly stuck in the XIX century. According to my GPS I was half way through a brown pixel, on my way to a light-blue pixel. Go figure.
“Altitude 3400 meters.” One more thing I should have checked before I set off! I was panting severely and got the first inklings of a headache. But the real problem was the temperature. It is 1 centigrade less per 100 meters of difference, they say. “This morning, at 1000 meters, the temperature was 35 degrees, so that means…”
My math was interrupted suddenly by another gust of wind, slightly colder still. Cold enough, in fact, to make me realize how soaked my feet were, “I should have taken my shoes off before fording that river.”
“If I could only get to the other side of that ridge,” I tried to cheer myself up. Futile effort, as there was nothing over that ridge that would have helped my situation. Indeed, it took only a short climb to have this last bit of false hope crushed. A wide, descending valley opened before me, funneling towards Song-Kul, but that was it. “I won’t make it today.”
I sipped the last bit of the 3 liters of water I started with. “Enter emergency mode,” I jokingly stated aloud. “I know how to setup a shelter; I know how to filter water: take a sock, fill it with grass, leaves and burned wood. Pour through.”
But first things first. Most importantly, review supplies. A tin of tuna was the highlight. I will never forget how tasty the drops of fat were. At home, I tend to drain the fat into the sink, here it was a godsend. Thick, sweet, like pure honey! It is funny how our brains work.
An ever-longer shadow was greedily devouring the valley, the sky was turning into deeper and deeper shades of gray, and the temperature was plummeting fast. In this unreal setting an obscure creature surprised me. “A dog! Up here?” I quickly connected the dots. ”Please let there be a shepherd too!”
And there he was, a nomadic-looking man on a horseback. An overwhelming sense of relief rushed through my body. But this is a new chapter of danger. “Keep cool, keep composed. You don’t know the guy,” I thought quickly. “Priviet. Sleep and food. You have?” My Russian is awful, but I got the message across. “Yes. Come,” he replied indifferently.
– “Where are you from?” He broke the silence after a while, this time in English
– “Holland? Sleep $20.” Of course, the foreigner tax! Everything in Kyrgyzstan is always $20.
– “Not Holland. Poland. Polsha. $10. With dinner and breakfast.” My oh-so-successful haggling technique fizzled out by his reply of impenetrable silence. I was still to learn that Kyrgyz mountain folk are tough people and master negotiators.
After a short, 30 minute walk through twisting paths we reached his yurt; the sun was long gone. His wife was inside, preparing kurut. “I hope this is not dinner,” I thought, as I sat down by the fire. I hate kurut. Out of nowhere, a steaming bowl of porridge covered with a thick layer of jam landed in my hands.
– “$20 for night and eating,” this time he stated in Russian.
– “$12,” I mumbled with my mouth full of the world’s sweetest jam. But before he had a chance to answer, I noticed his wife carrying heaps of blankets to a smaller side-yurt. “They already agreed to my offer,” I realized. “$14, but that is it,” I corrected myself to close the deal faster.
An hour later I was in a makeshift sheepskin bed, with my brain persistently uttering the last question of the day:
Is this still tourism, or is this already travel?