After staring out our apartment window at the looming mountains to the south for over a month, we finally got the chance to venture forth in late September. We packed a bag with some snacks and met up with a few friends to head to Ala Archa National Park, only about 40 km from Bishkek.
We’ve heard mixed things about being allowed dogs in the park, so this time we headed out without Roxie and decided to take a marshrutka (a little van that acts as public transportation; number 265 runs down Manas to the entrance of Ala Archa for about 40 som, around 70 cents). When we got on the marshrutka from the main road in Bishkek, it was already packed full of people. The 6 of us squeezed in, cramming against one another and ducking, shaping ourselves to fit under the low ceiling in the front of the van. And there we stayed for the rest of the ride, about 1 hour.
After a 15 minute stop in one of the villages for no apparent reason, where the driver got out and left all of the marshrutka riders standing (and us wondering where, exactly, the driver went and when, exactly, we would be leaving), he returned and we drove the rest of the way to the entrance of Ala Archa. After the cramped and muggy van quarters, the fresh air and looming mountains were striking, but they would be breathtaking even without the juxtaposition of the smelly van.
The marshrutka from Bishkek stops at the entrance gate of Ala Archa. We paid the fee for pedestrian entrance (80 som) and entered. We weren’t entirely sure of our destination or exactly how far the road to the main hiking trails went, although I vaguely remembered reading the distance was something in the 15 km range, not really walkable as the start to a hike. But the scenery was beautiful and even walking along the road was nice, with the fresh air a contrast to the smoggy air that characterizes Bishkek most days.
We wandered along the road for an hour or so when a small sedan pulled over to offer some of us a ride to the hotel, where a lot of the hiking trails begin. In the car was a man and his wife and child, leaving just two seats open. When he realized there were six of us he apologized that we couldn’t fit and kept driving. A minute later, though, he came back and said he thought he could fit us. His child sat on his wife’s lap in the front seat and six of us fit in the back seat. Luckily we were a group of three couples, so the boys piled in and the girls sat neatly on top. So we made it to the end of the road in Ala Archa in about 8 more minutes.
When we got out around 1 PM we opted out of hiking and instead set up a picnic. Right away we ran into another teacher from our school out with friends and enjoyed the sun, fresh air, good view, and snacky food. Ryan and I marveled at the mountains, looking quite threatening, even to us Coloradans.
Around 2 PM as the sun set behind a mountain it abruptly became cold cold. We debated calling a taxi or trying to hitch a ride back to the main road to catch a van, and started walking down the road while we decided. Right away we ran into our erstwhile friend, who again offered to carry us down the mountain, so we piled in, well-rehearsed this time, and got a ride all the way to the first village where we insisted on catching a marshrutka the rest of the way. This time we got seats the whole way back, and arrived in Bishkek with lungs full of fresh air and happy about our picnic foray.