Thursday, April 15, 2010

Day Four: The Talas River (guest blog)

Several things happened today that I will not be writing about. Specifically, I had a wonderful Dungan lunch, a delicious Russian dinner, visited several important monuments in Taraz, and spent several hours at a techno dance club that had no power and was operating by candlelight. Each of those could warrant a blog post, but today I only have time for one topic: tubing.

It all started at Tektor Mas, a monument outside of Taraz that sits on a stately hill overlooking the Talas River. We visited Tektor Mas because it's one of those "must-do's" that people with books like Lonely Planet and Rough Guide tramp around the city looking for and taking pictures of. I do a fair amount of traditional tourism, and so I wanted to check it out, too.

We stood behind the monument overlooking a lazy bend in the river, catching up on life and enjoying the breeze and sunny weather. Today was the best day weather-wise I had in Kazakhstan. It was in the upper 60s and really quite comfortable, even with the wind. We scampered down the hill to the water to follow a path that we spotted.

For whatever reason, as we walked along the river for a few minutes, I really felt compelled to go tubing. Michael had never been tubing, so we talked through the logistics. Ideally, you need a fast-moving, relatively calm river, a bunch of buddies, and a cooler full of beer. (The beer is optional, but encouraged.) To my surprise, Michael got excited.

I have a history of bad ideas, especially when it comes to water sports. I was planning on Michael being my voice of reason speaking out against this terrible idea. Instead, I think he embraced the spontaneous in favor of more sightseeing. The next thing I knew, he was calling Kazakh people.

There were many immediate questions: Where does the river go? Is it safe? Do people do this? Where can we find large inner tubes? How much do they cost? Does anyone else want to go? Is it illegal? What's the worst that can happen?

We ended up heading to Michael's office to discuss with Acela and the others we found there. We needed a map, and some information. From there, with a strong warning from all Michael's colleagues, we were off to the bazaar. Soon enough we learned the word for inner tube (camara), then used hand gestures to find the large truck and tractor tire section of the bazaar. Soon we were the proud owners of two inner tubes and some rope. A quick trip to a mechanic and the tubes were inflated.

Back at Michael's apartment, we tied the rope haphazardly across the tubes to fashion a "bottom," which was designed to protect our butts and give us something to grab if we fell out and/or were swept away in a current. Next thing I knew, I was wearing spandex and hailing a taxi.

We put in just past the railroad bridge. In our preliminary scouting, we realized that this particular bridge was patrolled by angry appearing men sporting long rifles. It seemed prudent to avoid their line of sight.

Once on the water, things went remarkably well. The water was freezing, as the Talas River is fed by snow melt from the scenic mountains in Kyrgyzstan. But overall there were few obstacles to avoid.

We tackled two waterfalls (1 on purpose, 1 quite by accident as I was unable to stop) and avoided one which would have likely capsized the inner tubes. We floated past fishermen, farmers, and children playing on the banks and bridges. I waved at everyone, even though Michael said that Kazakh people don't wave. I think it made many people uncomfortable, but then again it could have been the fact that I was floating by in an inner tube on a snow melt river.

We took out after about an hour float, at an overpass that we had spotted on the map back at Michael's house. Sure enough, there was a bus stop nearby, and we had nearly drip dried when we got picked up for the ride home.

In the bus, we were quite a source of entertainment. I don't think Americans armed with inner tubes and still quite damp have ridden on a bus in Kazakhstan before. The adventure ended with a 15 minute walk through downtown Taraz with tubes in tow.

We had done the impossible - floated a river despite everyone telling us it was a terrible idea and that we would die. We had braved the freezing water to chase our dreams, or something like that. It was awesome.


Margie Hotard said...

sounds fun. I once told Michael that when he came home you guys should try and get on the Amazing race show . I bet you two could win.

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