Toktogul Resevoir!! #kyrgyzstan #peacecorps #theswitzerlandofcentralasia
Another exciting bit of winter activity at Ecotrek - this past week we introduced cross country skiing to Karakol locals!
Several years ago, a Norwegian organization visited Ecotrek to teach our guides how to ski and donated 30 sets of skis and boots. Unfortunately, the idea never caught on and the equipment hasn’t really been used since. In an effort to increase our winter business and make use of the equipment we have, we decided to invite locals out for the day to learn how they can enjoy the mountains in this accessible, affordable and healthy way.
A fellow PCV, Dan Cawley (whose great blog can be found here), came all the way from At-Bashy, Naryn to lend his expertise, which was helpful considering that I haven’t cross country skied since I was a small child and hated it with a passion.
The first day we brought 21 students from Tinistanov University’s Department of Tourism to our beautiful ski area right outside Karakol city. Despite many falls and a fair amount of misunderstanding, the students picked it up pretty quickly and we were even able to hold a relay race at the end of the day. The winning team completed the course in an impressive 7 minutes, 12 seconds and won the grand prize of free ski rentals for the day!
The second day was a much calmer group of about 15 local women, but they also took to the sport quickly. Unfortunately, our tracks had frozen over from the previous day’s activities and the course was slightly more challenging, resulting in many more falls. We were able, however, to discover a new trail that was much flatter and more relaxing for many of us.
Many of the participants even asked how and when they could go cross country skiing again which hopefully means that our goal of encouraging locals to get outside more in the winter will happen! Overall it was a great and tiring two days of skiing and we’re looking forward to more days like this in the future!
A couple weeks ago, I got to experience one of the many advantages of working in tourism when my organization decided to take a day off from work and hit the slopes instead!
My office manager, local counterpart, several guides and myself all took part in this adventure. I was the only snowboarder of the group and one of only 3 females. My counterpart had never been skiing before and unfortunately, I haven’t either so I couldn’t help her. After everyone finally got their equipment on, which seemed to take an usually long time we headed down to the lift where I got to prove to my co-workers that I do know a little bit about snowboarding.
Immediately I heard laughs and, “Why is she keeping her snowboard on!? What is she doing!?”
Thankfully, my manager, Tashtan, had faith in me and responded, “Don’t worry about her, she knows what she’s doing.”
For any snowboarders out there, in Kyrgyzstan snowboarders generally take their snowboards off and carry them on the lifts. This is the norm for beginners as well as people who are much better than me. I’ve always found it strange and honestly the idea of carrying my board and walking off the lift scares me a lot more than riding with it on but that’s the way it is here. So my coworkers were more than stunned when I rode off the lift safely.
They were then quickly impressed with my skills – which include riding heel side and not falling. It was a great confidence boost for me, although I’m sure the first time I snowboard back home I will be quickly reminded of where I stand. One of the men who came with us was so impressed with my snowboarding and lackluster Kyrgyz skills that he proposed marriage after our second run down the mountain. I politely declined.
On a later lift ride, I sat next to a nice Kyrgyz man who seemed very intent on talking to me. I thought my Kyrgyz had just really gone downhill when I thought he asked me, “Do you know God?” so I just went with my usual response of confusion and said “Yes”. After a few more minutes of confusion I realized that my Kyrgyz is not that bad but that this was just a very strange lift conversation. He was describing Islam and telling me about the virtues of religion and the importance of being a good person. He was very nice about it and after we got off the lift he thanked me and said goodbye. When I got to the bottom of the hill, I asked my counterpart about this and apparently I’d just met a Muslim missionary! She said she’s experienced it quite a lot here and was surprised I’ve never had anyone talk to me about religion.
It was a great day filled with group bonding and several firsts, including my first ride on a ski lift with no equipment, my counterpart’s first skiing lesson, and another co-worker’s first attempt at snowboarding! It’s days like this that make leaving even more bittersweet.