MR 2006 | thank you bishkek. we had a ball
We rolled into Bishkek in the evening and found the center of town easily enough. In search of the checkpoint bar, a place called Stariy Edgar's, we headed for Paniflov Square. Fiesta in the lead we blew right by a "Do Not Enter" sign. I blindly followed. No cars and many pedestrians, we were pulled over in short order.
Patrick and I handed over our Int'l Driving Permits (best $10 any of us ever spent) to the officer and started playing the game. Our abilities to dumbfound authorities with idiocy were ever increasing. Everytime the policeman tried to explain our infraction we kind of stared blankly, pointed to a piece of paper with an address on it, and asked directions. Eventually we wore him down. Free to go, licenses in hand, no bribes paid.
The location of the bar still a mystery we parked the cars and continued on foot. Vaughn and I would mind the cars while Seth and Patrick went out in search. After maybe half an hour I got restless and took a walk. Within minutes I spotted the General Lee driving down the same closed road we had and ran out to stop them. Barry and Charlie went in search of the Xanadu Casino, one of the places their sponsor, Casino Life Magazine, had asked them to look in on.
Tigglywinks was taking an awfully long time returning. Bored again I asked the doorman of a nearby bar if he'd heard of Edgar's. Surprisingly, he gave me perfect directions. Just a short walk away, cleverly hidden in the park and underground. Tricky Mongol Rally.
The Dukes had even better success. The casino offered to feed us all and let us park the cars in the lot over night. Without hesitation we accepted and assumed we could get directions to a hotel from there. One beer in and having barely ordered food there appear on the table 3 room keys. "Sorry, only King Deluxes available, so I hope that's alright." The Hyatt Regency adjoins the casino. Three $320 per night rooms on the house. And you should've seen the palatial bathrooms. A sight for sore, road wearied traveller's eyes. Really can't say thanks enough.
All agreed we should probably tidy up and drop a little cash at the casino. It's only fair. After food and showers I don't think a single person made it downstairs. Sorry about that.
Seat and Fiesta front and center before the Hyatt. We got more looks than any Mercedes or Audi in the lot.
The next morning we checked out and planned to take a drive up into the mountains while waiting for the Fiat boys to show up. Besides, the cars had piqued the curiosity of staff and guests for long enough. As we were packing up a woman came rushing out of the Hyatt asking if we were Mongol Ralliers. Turns out she was from the States, her husband was working in Kyrgyzstan, and she'd heard about the rally on NPR and has been following it's progress since. She knew the routes all led through Bishkek and was hoping she'd run across some teams. Then she found out we were Americans. We'd have been fools not to take them up on their offer for dinner and drinks. We settled into the Hotel Dostuk a few blocks away and headed out to meet our new friend. Let's call her Ava (Gardner).
Ava has a taste for vodka martinis and claims that the Metro is the only bar in that part of the world where you can get a decent martini. The wait staff has been under her tutelage on the subject for quite some time. Round after round arrive and we're all sharing stories. She wants to know all about the rally and lets on that she's trying to convince her husband, Frank (Sinatra), to enter with her next year. Any comments we can make to sway his decision that way would be much appreciated. At some point the martinis stopped coming and Coronas started appearing on the table. Corona with lemon as limes just don't exist in Kyrgyzstan.
Frank showed up and we were given a tour of the back half of the bar. It used to be an old children's theatre; a cavernous room with a large dusty chandelier hanging in the middle. Last Halloween Ava used the room to host Bishkek's first haunted house. To hear her tell stories of it I'm sure everyone had a good time.
We part ways with Frank and Ava for the night with plans to meet them the next day. They'd invited us to stay a night at their home. They leave us with their driver who will take us out and about for the rest of the night. The driver would stick with us and make sure everyone got home safely. Apparently there had been muggings recently.
The next day some of the crew was looking a little worse for the wear. But we all made it to the Hyatt eventually. Late afternoon the convoy fully reunited when James, Andy, and the Fiat rolled into town. The driver led us out to the house minus Vaughn and the Seat. We'd left him in the Hyatt lobby to wait for Ava earlier in the day looking quite ashen. When we came back he was gone. Reportedly off to stay in some other American's nearby apartment to recuperate. No note, phone number, or even a name. But it's Bishkek afterall. The city had been treating us well so far, so it must be looking out for Vaughn now too.
We dropped the cars at the house and piled into the driver's big black Audi and made for the mountains. Half an hour outside of town we pull over in this mountain valley. A collection of small buildings with a river rushing right down the middle. I see Frank come walking over. It's a restaurant/resort called the 12 Chimneys where we'd be having dinner. Everything is outdoors. Each table has its own fireplace capable of emitting so many Btu Charlie (of the Dukes) had to shield himself with his jacket to avoid being singed through the whole meal.
The 12 Chimneys Restaurant in the mountains above Bishkek lot.
With bellies full of shashlik we headed back down to Frank and Ava's. Behold Vaughn was there sleeping on the living room floor. Tomorrow there would be breakfast. The driver would take the Dukes to a garage in the morning to repair their suspension. The rest of us could just relax until it was time to leave.
Car repairs always take longer than expected. 2pm rolled around and the Dukes were off to the Auto-Bazaar once again for more parts. It was becoming clear that we may not be leaving as soon as we'd thought. Ava is a sharp, generous and outgoing woman. Before we knew it we were accepting her offer to stay another night. The General returned with a new look. Lada suspension springs fitted all round raised the car up off the ground an extra couple of inches. It looked suited for any abuse. Most headed off for the Hyatt pool. Seth and I headed to Edgar's in search of ralliers. We broke out the Kvas, stopped by Edgar's and found not a single rallier.
Over another meal of shashlik at an out of the way cafe Frank taught us a few words in Russian that really shouldn't be spoken. Apparently "hooey" does not mean the same in English as it does in Russian. It pricked the ears of other restaurant patrons and they started giving us sidelong glances.
Ava decided to join us for our last night on the town. We headed to the Butterfly bar that had been so helpful our first night. It was early yet and the place was mostly empty. Red Bull helped to combat that tired-full food coma feeling. There was a pool table upstairs and I challenged Seth to a game. I think we finally got back to Frank and Ava's around 5 in the morning. Breakfast would be at 8 and we would all head out to the main bazaar on the outskirts of town to have a look around. From there we would be on our way...back to Kazakhstan, bound for Almaty.
Back to Kazakhstan. Thank you, Bishkek. We had a ball.
It's nearly impossible to convey the impression Bishkek left. Coming out of the Kazakh desert to find mountains, greenery, a city seemingly filled with friendly people may have skewed the impression somewhat. But does that matter? We've met some incredibly generous, open-hearted people along the way. Frank and Ava definitely stand out among the more memorable ones.