Visa to Kyrgyzstan: $15.00
Transportation to and from Bishkek: $17.00
Miscellaneous travel costs: $10.00
Traveling 6 hours to another country to play an organized game of ultimate when you are living in Central Asia for two years: Priceless
I’d like to begin by apologizing to anyone out there who may not understand the jargon in this post, but I encourage you to start playing organized ultimate so it will make sense to you. :)
Last weekend I traveled to Bishkek to play in the somewhat annual Bishkek-Almaty ultimate Frisbee game. I was fortunate to hear about the game in March when I stopped into play pickup with the Almaty team while I was in town for a conference on volunteerism. After that I went through the hassle of getting a visa (a small hassle, but still pretty much a full day in Almaty), the stress of Peace Corps saying that Bishkek may be entirely off limits, and then the stress of having to arrange a stay in a town near the Kyrgyz border so I could make it to the game on time Sunday morning (thanks Jamie and Simbat!)
But it was most definitely worth it. Jacob (another PCV) and I arrived at the fields at 10:20, with the game scheduled to start at 11:00. All of our team was already there, most having come down from Almaty the day before. The team is a truly international mix of characters, headed by an ex-pat named Jason that works in Almaty. Jason played ultimate in the States before he moved abroad, but he’s been away from the stateside scene for awhile. (For Frisbee-philes out there, he left before the Callahan was added to the official rules.) He is a great handler and really forces the team to play by the rules and the fundamentals.
The rest of the team is composed of locals and other ex-pats who live in the Almaty area. I believe there were three Englishmen, six or seven Russians, and two or three Kazakhs. (A lot of the team was somehow recruited from an acrobatic squad or something, meaning very, very athletic.) We had one brave girl make the trip, forcing her to play pretty much all 36 points. There were also had two Peace Corps volunteers: myself and Jacob. I’ve played with the team a few times occasionally; Jacob just began a few weeks ago, but goes much more regularly since he lives on the outskirts of the Almaty.
As I said above, the team we brought down to Bishkek was very athletic. All of the guys can run pretty well. All can catch. Most can throw an okay flick and a good backhand. Jason and I were the main handlers, as we each have six-plus years of ultimate in our blood. We had two tall, fast players as our constant deep threats. And everyone else as very solid receivers and defenders. The weeks leading up to the game, the team practiced forcing and marking, and that really paid off on the defensive side of our game.
Eventually, the team from Bishkek showed up. They had more girls, less guys. But a solid team with good handlers, and a lot of very athletic players as well. We decided to play a game to 21, not a typical score limit, but a good test for both teams. The game started pretty evenly with both teams trading points. We eventually went on a scoring run right before half that put us up at about 11-8. Bishkek did a good job neutralizing our deep threats, pretty much swatting the disc away whenever Jason or I got huck-happy. That meant we had to work the disc up the field for most of the points, or score when we got a turnover near the endzone. After half Bishkek pulled within a point at about 14-13, but we were able to get a few more scores and eventually keep a few points between us to take the victory at 21-17 or 21-18. I don’t remember the exact score.
Overall, the game was very good-spirited (the most important part of Frisbee to me!). There were a few rule disputes as there always are, but nothing out of the ordinary. At one point, I realized we were playing by World Disc Rules, which I am completely unfamiliar with. I’m sure they are mostly the same, but I pretty much know the UPA rules to the letter, and not knowing the nuances of the rules really threw me for a loop. (For example, you can take a brick in World Rules on the pull even if the disc lands in bounds and then rolls out.) At times we didn’t have a clear stack, continuation from cuts wasn’t always there, especially from the break-side, but it was what you would expect from a group of people with an enthusiastic love for the game, but not years of experience. While our team definitely wouldn’t win any tournaments in the States, I don’t think we would walk away winless from a college tournie with a broad field of teams.
The guys (and girl) on the team are also great people. They had great spirits and were always cheering from the sidelines or on the field. I wish I lived closer to Almaty so I could get to know them better. I think they’d be great to hang out with even when they weren’t on the field. Even after the game, I had to leave right away rather than going to lunch because I wasn’t sure how long the trip back to Taraz would take.
I don’t think any of them read this blog, but if they ever stumble across it, I’d like to say thanks for letting me join your team for the game. I think I made good contributions, but I think Almaty would have won even without me there. They definitely have the skill and athleticism it. Also, thanks to the Bishkek team for arranging the field and for the excellent game. I hope that the next time the two teams meet, I can be there again and have just as much fun as before.