Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A CPRless weekend getaway

Forgotten valley that served as our campsite. The park ranger turned out to be a very loud donkey, letting us know in the morning we were late checking out.
The police officer accepted the customary 3 dollar bribe after making Dina fill out a lengthy form, a process which was sparked by a radar gun that magically said we were going 20 miles an hour over the limit.

Pulling away from the bogus speed check the conversation continued:
“so this big guy was floating face down in river” continues Dina.

“this happened last weekend down the same river?” questioned the women, with trepidation, who was joining this rather impromptu weekend excursion of rafting and camping.

I had heard this story already, last week at the metro pub, a popular expat hangout in Bishkek, and only hoped that our rafting trip down the chui river would be less eventful. As the story goes the week prior a few of my friends helped rescue the raft in front of theirs and preformed CPR on a guy who was knocked unconscious when it flipped, then dragged him and the raft up a steep embankment to the ambulance. Guy lived, barely, end of story.

After a two hour drive we found ourselves listening to a big Russian guide giving instructions (in Russian) next to the raging Chui river. Without signing a western world insurance wavier, I began fixing the Velcro strap up my plastic skull cap extra tight while flirting with images provoked by the CPR story in the car, picturing that poor bastard being given mouth-to-mouth by some stranger while wearing this ridicules multi-colored skull cap. That can't be my fate I thought.

Gripping my Soviet style metal oar with the confidence and fortitude of Meryl Streep in “The river wild” we started charging down the middle of the swollen river banks, a product of continuous spring run-off, towards class 4 rapids. Note: my previous rafting experience was throwing a bunch of rich kids overboard down the Rhone River in southern Switzerland, class ½.

The river definitely had bursts of anger, which was exciting and worth the $40, even more so because I increased my Russian vocabulary by two words, “FORWARD” and “BACKWARD” which was shouted in my ear every time the guide gave paddling instructions.

When the river stretched into longer flows of relative tranquility I was able to take in the sights. Watching countless loads of young mares packed into pickup beds pass overhead, being trucked off to one of the many large animal bazaars in Kyrgyzstan. Their huddled manes fluttering in the wind were all I could see looking up from the river valley as they zoomed past on the treacherous highway that parallels much of the river's path. Connecting the worlds on either side of the Tien Shan Mountain Range.

Deep dips, down into the belly of the rapid, then thrusting up to the other side, the crew drenched with water as we crested the mountain of white rage, only to repeat the pattern again and again down the 20km journey.

Large herds of sheep, grazing next to the river, would scamper off at the sight of our floating orange monster. Their collective movement against patches of green grass and steep red clay canyon walls was a moment befitting of any quality nature show.

The rafting ended without any serious injuries or noteworthy events. When things go right there are few exciting stories to tell, a truth that has been my guiding principle ever since I started out on this nomadic life style several years ago.

Looking down at our campsite in a Jialoo, or Kyrgyz mountain pasture

We piled back into the SUV, found a road off the main drag and proceeded to drive into a forgotten patch of Kyrgyzstan's 90% mountainous terrain. Setup camp, started a fire, roasted marinated meat on skewers, drank moderately priced vodka late into the night, got up the next morning, went for a hike and drove back to Bishkek before Sunday sundown.

A full weekend without CPR.

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