Haras du Pin (is pronounced in no way like it’s spelled)

I had tickets to jumping (yay!) but lived pretty far away from the city center (boo!) so it took me an hour by tram and bus to get to the arena.  As it turns out, watching show jumping is stressful for me.  For the jumps that I had the best view of, I would get a knot in the pit of my stomach as soon as the horse’s feet left the ground that only untied itself when their hooves returned to terra firma.  It was exciting to hear the audible groan from the crowd (in an otherwise solid minute and a half of silence) whenever a competitor knocked down a fence.  I had learned already that “oxer” is the type of jump which is longer, so I at least had a word for that.  Otherwise I observed that the first three jumps seemed the simplest, and the most difficult looked to be those which were spaced the closest since that required the strides be just right in between.  The worst performance I saw involved someone knocking down six fences in their course.

I hopped on one of the WEG shuttles to the Games Village, where I stopped in at the Ariat boot booth.  The week before I showed them my shoelace keeper which had busted in Paris, and they said to stop by later to see if they can replace it for free.  That was ample incentive to get me to drop in, and . . . They replaced the boots for free!  I am very pleased with their commitment to their product and my satisfaction as a customer.  I have no idea if it was my backstory (I’ve had the shoes less than two months, and they really need to make it another ten before busting) that got me the swap, but I highly appreciate the result.  Now my black boots match my black cowboy hat, and I feel one step closer to a wardrobe that clashes less horrendously.

After lunch of the best veggie burger ever, I watched a women’s competition of vaulting in which they all performed the same routine on horseback.  To the uninitiated, (as I was a few days before) equestrian vaulting looks like a combination of interpretive dance, gymnastics, and trick riding.  The vaulter, lunger (person making the horse go in a circle) and horse all enter the ring together, the music starts, and the vaulter trots out to the horse.  I say “trot” because they run alongside the horse mimicking his stride before grabbing handles and hoisting themselves up on his back.  I was amazed throughout every rendition, even though I had no idea what criteria was used to determine an excellent performance.  My favorite vaulter was a Russian woman, and I got chill bumps watching; she wasn’t even in the top 10.  Even though the routines were identical, I was never bored.  I left the stadium that afternoon quite content with my level of knowledge of vaulting, which was limited, but astounded by the beauty of a woman standing up on the back of a galloping horse.

I made the trek back to the apartment and chatted with my host, who was writing a fanzine in preparation for an anime convention.  Karel picked me up, and we drove an hour away to Haras du Pin, one of France’s national stud farms.  They are responsible for the upkeep of French breeds, like the “Selle Francais” or the French saddle horse, Percheron, and Norman Cob.  They also have some Anglo-Arabs, Arabians, Lippizzaner’s, etc.  Karel has a friend from her old stable that works at the stud farm now (Tiphaine), and we were invited to come visit for an evening.  We noticed the friend’s phone was turned off once we reached the town, and we didn’t have directions to her house.  Since it was such a small town, we drove to the Haras and asked of the first person if they happened to know where Tiphaine kept her horse…?  Surprisingly, that worked, and we found her and her puppy at her stables.  We drove a few minutes to Tiphaine apartment, which is a five minute walk away from her work.  Taking the puppy, Joey, with us, we walked to the grounds and received an unofficial (French) tour.  I saw the backstage area of the school, where people learn to be horse trainers, carriage drivers, and saddle makers.  This was the location of the cross-country eventing about a week before, and I learned that a horse died after he crossed the finish line.  More on that later.  Another girl came over to hang out and, since I couldn’t understand French, I spent most of the night stalking the kitten and trying to convince him that he loves me.

Karel had work the next afternoon, so we went to the Haras for the museum, grabbed lunch, and she went on her way.  Getting lunch was a bit difficult since the Haras is in a town of less than 400 people, but after driving literally in a circle, we found a restaurant.  I got dropped off at the apartment with the puppy and the kitten, who is by this point a fan of McKenna.  I was in hog heaven.  Later in the afternoon I had a formal tour of the grounds in which I learned that the Haras was founded in 1715, they currently have their first woman director, and that the Percheron was mainly bred for meat after the advent of the tractor.  In the evening there was a going-away party for the students (misspoken as a “go-away party”) in which I chatted with a French/Irish woman who is a vet at the Haras and her husband is a trainer.  I was also befriended by a gray-haired man, Gilles, who rides dressage and show jumping, and was one of the flag bearers for the opening ceremony of the Games.  He said the most profound thing about the Percheron: “If we do not eat it, the breed will disappear.”  As mentioned in the tour, the French people did not know what to do with their large breed after they were replaced with farm equipment.  Gilles indicated that people were invested in their draft horse but, like many people in the 1940’s, did not know what their horses would be used for in the future.  Other solutions included breeding shows, competitions, police work, and pleasure riding.  Farming for food would never have crossed my mind, but I am sure it is not a unique resolution.

I left the party early due to the limited number of English speakers, and grabbed the kitten from off the roof before I went to bed.

It was my last day at the Haras.  I watched a riding presentation which had two horse trainers doing some trick riding stuff, as well as an exhibition of the French breeds which are maintained there.  My friend Gilles from the night before was showing the Selle Francais (French Saddle Horse) in dressage alongside a woman who rode side saddle.  She made it look SO COOL.  Since I wrote far more of my thesis than I’d planned on the influence of side saddle on women’s relationships to horses and freedom, it was a treat to see a woman ride (and jump) competently and make it look easy.

Tiphaine was in Caen for the day and offered to drive me to the train station when she got back that night, but she got stuck in major traffic.  She called a friend to come get me, and I was driven by the assistant director of the Haras to the train station.  It was quite fun to pick her brain about how the eventing had gone the week before, how she likes her job, etc.  I asked the question I don’t particularly enjoy getting: “Do you ride every day?”  Instead of grumbling like me that she doesn’t have the time but she wishes she did, she replied, “Yes, I have to!”  Her horse is kept in a stall and only turned out for part of the day, and if she does not ride him, then he does not get enough exercise.  In that way it is somewhat of a chore to ride, instead of a treat.  I do believe that is the kind of interesting difference I am meant to encounter on this Watson year.  Over and out.

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There were no events lined up for the next day so I wandered around the exhibits.  If it’s even vaguely horse related and for sale, it was present in one of the hundreds of booths.  Overpriced WEG paraphernalia (think €50 for a t shirt), trailers, cars, tack, clothing, medicine, supplements, novelties, subscriptions, food vendors, all present.  There were lots of cowboy hats in the crowd, and I was so nostalgic that I bought a black felt hat from a French woman.  Mom: now that I’ve paid for my own hat, I know why you got so mad that Little McKenna sat her little butt on your cowboy hats on the regular.  I feel like I have a little bit of home now, and maybe someone will come up to talk to me about horses since I’m displaying my interest so obviously.  It also doubles as a “please don’t try to speak French to me” alert.  A short note on my food for the day.  In an effort to slowly wean myself off of the 10-15 cups of tea per day, I bought a coke with lunch that turned out to be €3.  In comparison, my lovely sandwich only cost 6.  It was called “The Norman” made up of food the region is known for: camembert, apples, and an herb butter.  (Mama and Michael:  If you are worried that I am not eating enough, it’s only because I find writing about food to be boring so I frequently edit meals out unless they are as interesting as The Norman.)


In an event arena, I saw fun horse displays.  Some were similar to the Opening Ceremony, like the reenactment of the Battle of Hastings.  It was not entirely accurate, as I definitely saw a Saxon help William back onto his horse when he fell off.  The garde republicaine performed some of their dressage moves en mass, and there was another display of Akhal Tekes.  They are the most beautiful horses I’ve ever seen and look like grayhounds, but I think of it the same way I do dressage: it’s very pretty, and incredibly artificial.  The same riders from the ceremony on the Moroccan Barbs showed off their trick riding moves.  Dad used to show off by taking one step off while Boomer was still walking and pop back in the saddle.  That was step one for the trick riders, but they also rode backwards (like Bek!), did flips around the saddle horn, ran for several steps alongside their horses, and rode upside down.  Who knew both Daddy and Bek have Step 1 of Trick Riding in their bag of tricks?


PHOTOS: Garde republicaine; William the Conqueror Reenactment: Sorry Fred Baker, the first war reenactment I saw was the Battle of Hastings.


Wearing my fancy new cowboy hat, I stopped at the information booth to ask a few questions.  There was a French girl with fantastic English that I chatted with for quite some time.  I asked if all of the volunteers are horse people and she said, “No, some of them are just regional volunteers,” and rolled her eyes.  I left to watch some more horse shows, and was kicking myself for not realizing she’s the kind of person I came here to meet.  I fabricated a question or two in order to go back to her info booth and ended by asking if she wanted to grab coffee and talk about horses some time.  We exchanged details, and I had a facebook friend request waiting for me when I got back to home.  Agnes threw together a risotto recipe and I told her I envied her ability to do that, and thanked her for the suggestion that the couch surfer cook food on the second night as a way to share recipes and help out.  She said that I am by far the most helpful couch surfer she’s hosted, and she’s had around 25 in the past.  :-D  I finally had a request from a different host I had contacted who is a horse rider in the area, and he came to pick me up to rescue me from whatever I’m allergic to in her apartment.  Agnes and I parted as friends, and I said I’d look her up when I came back to Caen next week.


Moroccan Barbs and trick riding.


The boy couchsurfing host said the only reason he accepted my request is because he felt guilty for being a part of the site but never being involved in it, which I thought was a weird way to start.  He then became paranoid that I was going to infest his flat with bedbugs and had me put all of my luggage in trash bags for the night.  I understand the precaution, though I don’t think that’s what the problem is.  We stayed up watching a pilot episode of a tv series that neither of us got much out of because we talked about his American ex-girlfriend (who I already like more than him) the whole time.  I happily went to sleep, but was itchy all night.  The inhumanity!!!


I had tickets for the first event possible: para-dressage.  I woke and walked to the venue, since the fella’s apartment was in the city center.  I picked up my ticket since it had to be printed and there wasn’t one at the apartment, then took a shuttle to the hippodrome.  I sat in the rain and watched the event for probably an hour, then slunk out in search of food (there was no breakfast food in the flat).  I struck off in the general direction of the city center and stopped at a bakery for a delightful goat cheese eggplant tart thingie, and finally decided the state of ichiness was unbearable enough that I needed to find a doctor.  A bit terrified of the process, I asked for directions at a pharmacy and was directed a few blocks away.  I couldn’t figure out how to open the door so I waited for people to come out before slinking in to take the stairs to the waiting room.  Eventually a doctor showed up and asked if I had an appointment (in French) and I said no.  He took me to a room, examined my rash, said it was bites of some sort and gave me two prescriptions.  The whole experience took about 15 minutes and €23, plus €12 for the two prescriptions.  Fantastic, that is way better than at home!


I had made plans to meet the French girl, Karel, at her booth at 2:45.  I arrived at 2:45 and spent a half hour looking for her information point.  It was raining even harder by that point and I was madder than a wet hen and afraid that my error would cause me to miss meeting her.  I eventually found it and returned to the land of the happy.  We watched a demonstration of show jumping, which is her preferred sport, and went off to find a screen showing the day’s dressage.  We watched together and she explained what each of the different movements were, how hard they are compared to each other, and other subtleties of the movements.  It was great fun for me. There was a group of four Spanish riders who have various talents, one of which includes a man riding his horse and using a long stick to draw art in the sand as he rides.  It was beautiful, creative, and such an odd concept.  It made me think of Toothless in How to Train Your Dragon.


Then we went to the “Kentucky Ale Bar” and ordered beers from a man who is genuinely from Kentucky.  He said things like “Sundee” and “nuthin” and I almost asked him to read me the menu because of how happy his accent made me.  I asked if he rode horses and he promptly replied, “girl, you ever seen a black cowboy?”  It was a good joke, but I ruined it by saying, “yes, three.”  I then launched into a brief explanation of the demographics of cowboys of the Wild West, noticed nobody was as interested as me, and shut up.  He spoke with another American and mentioned they guy’s daughter is the #1 barrel racer in the world at 13 years old, and she would be giving a demonstration at the arena shortly.  The Kentucky man gave us key chain souvenirs on our way out because he was so happy to have found people who speak English.  We watched the barrel racing and Karel and my roles were reversed, with me explain some of the ins and outs of barrel racing.  I told her the girl was clearly holding back because I’ve seen faster times in Conway, Arkansas.  Then there were two more dressage riders, a mother and daughter, giving a demonstration and Karel quizzed me on the different moves.  I got pretty good by the end.


Looking for something to do, we went to the train station so I could get a ticket out of Caen for the week, and then we had dinner together.  I was so excited that A) my pizza had nothing remotely like mayonnaise on it and B) that it had four types of yummy French cheese on it.  She showed me photos of her horse Jazz and invited me to her home in Bretagne at the end of the Games.  I accepted without hesitation.  THAT is why Watson doesn’t want me to buy all of my plane tickets at once, so I can do unanticipated/relevant side trips like that.  We walked back towards the expo park together and I told stories about horses in Kyrgyzstan before I had to turn off.  It rained much more than it had all day on my way home.


When I got back to the confusing couch surfer’s apartment, he said, “I was going to say I thought you’d missed the rain, but clearly not.”  His English is great because of the aforementioned American ex-girlfriend.  I said, “In English, it would be appropriate to say I look like a drowned rat.” 

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World Equestrian Games

In Caen I tried couchsurfing for the first time.  But since I was a bit ambiguous about my date and time of arrival, I only had the info on getting from the train station to the nearest bus stop to Agnes’ (the host) apartment.  As the train was pulling up to the station I borrowed a girl’s phone to call Agnes, establishing that she would just pick me up from the train station since she was driving home anyway.  We met in the parking lot and she pointed out all of the World Equestrian Games decorations and changes that have happened to the town.  We got to her home that is actually in the next city, Bretteville, and I met her happy fat cat Gigi (pronounced like the “g” in “dressage”).  Agnes introduced me to both the concept of “aperitif,” a pre-dinner drink, and the local drink “pommeau,” an apple cider wine thing.  We listened to jazz music as we cooked dinner together and laid out the futon in the basement before bed.


The next morning I woke up with strange bites on my chest that I still cannot diagnose.  It is probably because my foot began to feel better.  France is not kind to my body.  Agnes was in the middle of renovating the tiles in her bathroom so a friend came over to help with that, and I left them to go check out the pre-games Caen.  At the bus stop I met a man, heretofore regarded as Harrison Forward, who within three minutes of our interaction said he would visit me in Mississippi.  I ignored it.  It came up again, and I didn’t reply.  Forward then asked, “are you married?” and I gave the only logical response to that line of inquiry: Yes.  But where is my ring, he wanted to know.  Good question….  Nobody was this presumptuous in Kyrgyzstan where I wore the Anti-Boy Device any time I was in public (perhaps, I now know, because Bek was telling everyone I was his girlfriend), but I really didn’t anticipate it would be a necessary accessory in France!  I explained that I don’t wear it when I travel.  Yay me, a convincing lie!  Harrison wanted my phone number but “unfortunately” I don’t have a French number.  What about Facebook?  This was borderline harassment, so I committed a feminist sin.  I said, “I don’t think my husband would like that.”  The words tasted bad, but I was in dire straits.  To be even more definite about my unavailable status, I showed him photos of Chris (hey Chris, by the way, we were married for about 15 minutes in case you didn’t feel it in the force).  Harrison Forward, in the last push before the bus came, suggested I just ask my husband if I could share my contact information, but my trump card was, again, “no French phone, sorry!”  The bus came and we happily parted ways.  Note: Harrison Forward bore absolutely no resemblance whatsoever to Harrison Ford in body, spirit or mind.


In Caen I hopped out at the stop closest to the horsy action and ran into some WEG volunteers and a horse owner who was trying to find her way, but she was supremely uninterested in speaking with me.  I asked at three different entrances if there was any way I could get in as a researcher.  The English abilities improved with each stop, but the answer was a firm no at each location.  I was finally directed to the hippodrome where I had the same response.  I got quite glum that my idiotic plan, “Go to Caen, meet competitors, magically be allowed inside” wasn’t bearing fruit.  Disappointed, I consoled myself with retail therapy: a lunch of a smoothie and a wrap, plus the greatest amenity I could expect right now, a new pair of SHOES.  They are really small ballet flats that are designed to fold in half for easy stowage in a traveler’s luggage.  I know everyone really wanted to know that I now have THREE pairs of shoes.


Somewhat pacified, I walked to the Abbey dus Hommes and the chateau in the center of town.  William the Conqueror built the castle in 1060.  He wanted to marry his distant cousin, Matilda, but the pope was not a fan, so Guillome (William) built Abbey dus Hommes (men’s abbey) and Abbey dus Dames (women’s abbey) basically as a bribe, which was successful.  The chateau had a museum of Normans that this archaeology dork enjoyed, and a temporary exhibit on French horsemanship from the 1500’s, which I clearly devoured.  There were plenty of English signs so I didn’t miss a thing.  My favorite part were the stirrups that went with side saddles which were made to look like dainty women’s shoes.


I made my way back to the flat, went grocery shopping (where Agnes teased me I might run into Harrison Forward, though thankfully that was not the case) and cooked mom’s mac n cheese recipe.  There are 300-400 types of cheese in France, but no cheddar, so I substituted a French one.  I calculated the measurements into metric units (mL, g, cm, C) and the result wasn’t half bad.  I moved to a different fold-out couch (“click-clack” because it takes two clicks to change from couch to bed) upstairs since something bit me or I’m allergic to something downstairs.


I spent a lot of time the next day coming up with Plan B, aka, “since I can’t get backstage to meet competitors, how do I make the best of my time in Caen/France?”  First step, acquire affordable tickets to as many different equine events as possible; second step, leave Caen for a week where there are absolutely no available hotel spaces and limited interested couchsurfing hosts to go somewhere else with horses.  There were, thankfully, no inquiries of my marital status at the bus stop and I went to the ticket booth and signed myself up to attend the Opening Ceremony, which met all above requirements except “affordable.”  There was a “Chevaux et cavaliers” (horses and riders) art display in the gallery on the chateau grounds that I got to see for free since I’m under 26, which is a good thing because it was a disappointing exhibit.  I returned to the fantastic horse exhibit, where I colored in a drawing of a pink-haired woman on a blue horse at the kid’s table for at least 45 minutes.  I got funny looks; I did not care.


I grabbed a bite to eat on the way to the Opening Ceremony and waited in the queue for an hour to get in and nab a perfect seat thirty minutes before it started.  There were French and English announcers, and it barely registered that the woman was speaking with an American accent.  There was a flyover by the Patrouille de France acrobatics team followed by a presentation of horses of honor.  Those are four breeds that are being showcased during the ceremony and are the French Cobb, American Quarter Horse (squee!), Akhal Teke, and Moroccan Barb.  During the parade of nations that have representatives in the Games (total of 74 nations which took over an hour), the French announcer calmly said, “Canada,” followed by the ecstatic English translation, “CANADAAA!”  So, North American accent, noted.  I was not surprised to see cowboy hats on the U.S., Canada, Brazil, Chile, and Mexican competitors, but was truly shocked to see so many on Finnish and Danish riders.  Of the eight events over the next two weeks, reining is a predominantly American sport but clearly there are competitors from elsewhere.  The other events are dressage, para-dressage, jumping, eventing, vaulting, driving, and endurance.  Also included are showcases of polo and horse-ball.


Then there were speeches, blah blah blah, yay France, thank the sponsors, and the Prime Minister spoke one sentence, “Let the Games begin!”  On to the spectacle….


It’s so hard to describe the performance.  There were creative audio-visual effects.  I saw the Garde Republicain play instruments on horseback (photo), a horse-ball demonstration, a cowboy and cowgirl ride around projections of cattle, a dance of knights and pawns on a checker board, a recreation of William the Conqueror on horseback, a video of the Bayeux Tapestry, a short vaulting performance, a showcase of horse-related impressionist art, riding by Saumur Cadre Noir, and one man ride two horses standing at a gallop while ten others followed in line.  It was a fantastic way to start off the event, and a great use of my time and money.  Unfortunately, the bus to the next town wasn’t running anymore, so I had to walk 15 minutes to the edge of Caen, wait for the bus that wasn’t coming, ask some police officers which way was Bretteville and get a free map from them (“a French present”), and walk 25 minutes home.  Still worth it.



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Do you know what France is full of?  WHITE PEOPLE.  It was a bit jarring for jetlagged/sleep deprived McKenna to handle.



Finally, someone has put my life into sculpture form.


So I got to Paris mostly intact, and keep in mind that I have no French knowledge whatsoever in a city that is notoriously unfriendly to people without language skills.  I was not headed to a hostel but to the home of people I had met in Kyrgyzstan, except they were out of town and I had to go to the train station where they left a key in a locker for me.  I migrated from the plane through security where I had a whole spiel about attending the World Equestrian Games if only the border guard would please let me into the country that I didn’t get to use because the only question he asked was “where are you coming from?”  I found and paid for the train to the city center where I got out at the train station and managed to acquire the house key from the locker and take a taxi to their home.  It was a small apartment full of books and art from their yearly exotic vacations.  I took advantage of their scale in the bathroom to ascertain that I lost at least 10 pounds in Kyrgyzstan (which France will promptly fix).  Then I napped until they arrived.


They were absolutely the sweetest.  The next morning I had breakfast that Aurelian bought from a bakery down the street, and (hot damn!) now I know why people buy French bakery items.  He then gave me anti-inflammatory cream for my ankle and wrote out a personalized walking tour of Paris on the map I’d gotten from riding next to a British couple who were on their way out of the country, score.  I mentioned I have only had my phone for photos since I stupidly left the correct charger back in America, and he lent me his camera so I could take photos on my own memory card.  How perfect!!  I hopped on the metro (literally hopped, that only takes one good leg) and went to the nearest stop to Musée d’Orsay.  I got out into the light and began to look at my map to figure out which direction to head.  I was about 10 seconds from a decision when a gray-haired man stopped and asked what I was looking for.  He suggested a different museum next door that most people overlook and I asked if he lived in Paris.  His answer was “depends on the day.”  He quizzed me on where I thought he was originally from but gave me a hint that it was a tiny country that borders France.  My second answer, Monaco, earned me some respect points.  Out of nowhere he said, “your eyes are a beautiful pers, which I cannot translate to English.  Maybe I could tell you if we meet this afternoon?”  Sly dog!  I responded, “no thanks, I think I’ll google it.  Good day!”  And he laughed, said “good girl,” and we parted ways.  I wanted Daddy to pop out of nowhere and firmly ask the ≈65 year old man, “What are your intentions with my daughter?”


The museum was closed.  I walked to the Louvre where there was a 2 hour wait for the entrance.  The photo above is from the sculpture park in front of the museum.  I happily walked along the river Seine to the Musée Quay Branly (anthropology) which was also closed.



Eiffel Tower from the Pont des Invalides; Place des Vosges; selfie with the dome of the Hotel des Invalides


I chose a random side street and had lunch in a café.  I met a beagle whose back legs are paralyzed so he has wheels.  The little dog he met in the park so did not expect to be chased by a wheeled doggie.  I took the metro to the end stop of Aurelian’s walking tour and totally loved the Place des Vosges because it reminded me of New Orleans.  Two random/unrelated thoughts: I saw a car charging with a cord for the first time; there was a towel with a rooster head on it for €130.  I walked through an island of the Seine whose bridge is covered in love locks (one was a bike lock, does that mean it represents a bigger love?), had ice cream, and saw the Notre Dame.  During the 15 blocks (approximate, because this city has no organization of that nature) of walking my foot demanded that I make a stop on my way back to the apartment.  Once back, Aurelian translated “pers” as “blue-green” for me cementing my decision that it was not worth a second meeting with the Man from Monaco.  Carole was out late with work so he made a pistachio and olive cake (savory, not like dessert) and we watched a film together over dinner.  They have been together for 18 years and I pointed out that I was 5 years old for Scottie’s wedding around the same time which made them giggle.  Inter-generational friendships are the bomb.


More baked goods for breakfast!  I could get used to this.  I overslept until 11:00 (which was embarrassing, but clearly I still needed to recover from my pre-flight night) and Aurelian had written out the train times to Chantilly, a chateau with a huge stable built by Louis XV.  What a dear!  I arrived in time for a demonstration of how they train the horses that they use for performances but it was all in French.  At the end, the riderless horse that looked like a bull dog (Tubby) was meant to bow and decided it would be better to lay down instead which merited a squeak from his trainer.  This squeak increased when he rolled onto his side as well.  She asked him to do it right a second time and after a moment’s hesitation, Tubby complied.  It was a hilarious end to the exhibition of “our horses are so fancy and well-trained.”  Horses will be horses.



Tubby walking without a bridle; Tubby bowing, the right way.


I spent at least two hours in their “museum of the living horse” which traced horses through domestication, variation in saddlery, and a lot of other good stuff.  For comparison, I think I spent 20 minutes at the chateau.  I had no idea there were so many different forms of stirrups!  And I just realized only mom will find that sentence interesting…  But the lighting in the museum was crap so I won’t make any of you look at photos of stirrups.  There was also an explanation of Eadweard Muybridge photographic proof that galloping horses’ legs lift off the ground underneath it and not extended like a dog.  I was lucky enough to happen to be around when the farrier was there to trim the little horses’ feet which was a treat for me.  I stayed for around a half hour to watch and showed him the photo of the Kyrgyz farrier working.  It was worth it to see the shock on his face at witnessing the tools he was using.





I came back to Paris and the three of us went out for Indian food since they knew I’m a veggie.  I tried to pay, and they wouldn’t let me.  That sentence was for the rentals (parentsàparental unitsàrentals, for those unfamiliar with the term) so they know I at least tried.  Since it was a horse-related day, I think it was even better than the first.


The lace-keeper of my leather-shoes which are meant to last a full year broke on day two.  Aurelian took me to three different tailors asking if they could fix it, and since they weren’t up to the task he offered to sew it for me.  I went out for museums, Musée d’Orsay and Quay Branley, which were excellent even considering their general lack of horses.  When I arrived back at the apartment, I found that Aurelian had gone to a different part of Paris to pick up a charger for my camera that he bought second-hand from a rough part of town.  He joked that his greatest hope was that “Canon Powershot charger” was not an online code for “cocaine and heroine.”  It wasn’t, and I can now charge my camera, yippee!  Carole and I had a girl’s night of leftover ratatouille, and Aurelian fixed my shoe when he returned from his business dinner.  I said goodbye to Carole because I knew I would leave the next day while she was at work, and I reminded them that they are invited to MS.


Yes…  More breakfast from the bakery.  You should be so jealous.  Actually, I think we should all be jealous of Carole.  The night before, she had written out a walking tour of the area north of their apartment which, upon showing to Aurelian, he decided was inadequate and spent a half-hour rerouting me.  I walked to the Moulin Rouge and Sacre Cour in the same morning which I found ironic.  The cathedral seemed to be designed to siphon money out of Catholics’ pockets.  To light a votive candle it was two or ten euros, there were places to leave offerings everywhere, and the bookshop was crazy big.  I happily made a quick tour of the inside and left, guilt-free and none the poorer.  Aurelian and I had lunch, and I gave him €7 for the charger even though it only cost 5 because I figured I should pay for his metro ticket at least.  He said that’s not necessary.  I ran away to the other room leaving the money on the counter and he called to me, “I suppose I will have to go to Sacre Cur and make a €2 donation in your name, then.”  That was the absolute sneakiest and cleverest way to get me to take the money back.


He checked out the train times for my departure to Caen.  Apparently it took longer for me to pack than I expected which didn’t leave enough time for me to purchase a train ticket from the counter, which is necessary because my credit card doesn’t have the microchip necessary for the automated machines..  Have you noticed how I’ve chronicled the overly generous and helpful ways of Aurelian?  Well, he pulled money out of an ATM so he could buy my train ticket from the faster machine and could give me the right change back when I paid him in cash.  He saw me safely on the train and I reminded him of the thank-you note I left on his counter.  It’s completely inadequate but it was the best I could do.  I am so lucky to have made such kind friends.  The main part that confuses me is that, since we only met over dinner and breakfast in Kyrgyzstan, they didn’t have much of an indication before inviting me to stay with them that I’m awesome.  So I could have been a dud or a slob or a crazy, ignorant American, but they opened up their home to me nonetheless.  They really set the bar for generosity.  Maybe they will be the first people to take me up on my offer to visit MS and I can show them why we are called the Hospitality State.  They respectfully requested that I have weird hair the next time we meet again.  That can be arranged.

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When we last left off, I was bawling as I said goodbye to more and more family.  First Bek, then Atam (father), then Apa (mother), Kazahn (nickname for Siuta), and sister in ones and twos.  Since Gurzada got me on the bus to Bishkek (written БИϣKEK, so I easily might have missed it) I knew I was going to the right place.  I got in a shared taxi to Almaty with a nice Kazakh family (mother and teenage sons) and the border crossing only took an hour or two.  It was an exercise in patience but luckily I’d read beforehand that politely waiting your turn will get you nowhere so I was mentally prepared for the pushing in line.  I waited in a 30 minute queue in a narrow line with mesh wire on either sides, thinking how very much like cattle we seemed.  After another several hours driving to Almaty, I negotiated with the driver where to take me.  I’d stupidly forgotten (you will remember how many tears I mentioned in the last post, yes?) to write down the address of the hostel I had a reservation with so he took me to the first hotel he found.  Nobody working there spoke English but someone was called up from the downstairs restaurant to try to communicate with me.  She came up with “how will you spend your time?”  And I said, “eating and sleeping.”  She was trying to ask how long I would spend there, as the rates start at half a day and go up from there.  We eventually got it sorted, and a cute boy who also worked at the restaurant laughed mercilessly at her as she tried to come up with English syntax and vocabulary.


The WiFi didn’t work so I managed to ask the concierge to borrow her computer by repeatedly pointing at it, mimicking typing, and saying “mama/papa” until it was clear.  I sent a pitiful message about how I didn’t feel well and eventually crawled out of my room looking for food.  I was sent to the restaurant downstairs where the same cute boy from before was a server and I got a table to myself, alone in the huge restaurant.  I got the opportunity to use my “Point It” book of photos in order to communicate “no meat.”  I said pizza and he listed the options.  I pointed at pictures of meat and said “niet” then photos of anything else vegetarian and said “da” until he got the picture.  He found a photo of mushrooms and I said yes.  I was feeling really crummy and put my head down on the table.  He came and tapped me on the shoulder to show me he had used Google translate to ask, “you want nothing else?”  I said no thanks in Russian.  He came back later and said “your pizza in twenty minutes.”  I said thanks in Russian.  I put my head back down.  He turned on loud terrible techno Russian music and I pantomimed “turn it off, I have a headache.”  He came back with “to turn off music?” on his phone and I said yes in Russian.  The next time he came over with a plate and silverware and I pantomimed a box for the food to take with me.  He wandered away to type, “you go rest, I bring your food upstairs.”  Now you see why this long paragraph was worth it, don’t you?  It was an unbelievably sweet gesture.  I thanked him profusely and wandered up the three flights of stairs to stagger to my bed and wait for sustenance.  He brought the food and ran back down for change, which I let him keep since he’d been so kind.  That basically made his day and he flashed me a smile.  I ate maybe two pieces of pizza before passing out.


Kazakhstan is much better when you don’t feel bad.  The next day I went downstairs and asked reception to call me a taxi to take me to the new address of my hostel, which caused a kerfuffle.  They were very confused that I was switching from a $60 per night hotel to a HOSTEL, goodness gracious!  They called to make sure I had the right address (which I didn’t, it was wrong on the website) and they walked me outside to the taxi.  I think they were probably happy to be rid of the random girl who didn’t speak any useful languages.  After a thirty minute taxi ride, I arrived at the hostel.  I spent much of the afternoon getting reacquainted with the internet and uploading photos to photobucket.  I played with the KITTEN that lives in the hostel.  Actually, I hogged the kitten.  I pulled the ribbon out of my bag that had previously been used as a hair tie or practice learning the Kyrgyz knot, but now it worked for Endless Feline Entertainment.  I wore her out and she took a nap in my lap.

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I finally tore myself away from the kitty baby to make my way to the former parliament building where I ate lunch in front of a pretty fountain, then on to the National Museum of Kazakhstan.  There was a random statue of an apple in the street which I figured out is because “Almaty” (pronounced “Almata”) breaks down to father “ata” of apples “alma.”

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The parliament/fountain and a cool B.C. replica of Kazakh princely clothing


I came back and spent the rest of the afternoon in the common area online and wondered, “huh, what will I do for dinner?  I’ve gone and let the sun set and Michael won’t like it if I wander around looking for food at night.  But I have no food here.  Whatever am I to do?”  Then Judy appeared and said “Do you want me to make you am omelet?” out of absolutely nowhere, like an angel sent from above.  And as they say, it was the start to a beautiful friendship.  She didn’t know that she’d stumbled upon the best way to instantly befriend me, which is of course to feed me.  Judy is from Germany and her English is at least as good as mine, which spurred a competition to use words that we would have to teach each other, a game I am ashamed to admit I lost (2:1, “fomo/fear of missing out” and “nonrotic” versus “infix”).  We then went out to buy ice cream from the shop and made plans for French toast in the morning.  She likes to cook, I enjoy eating; it’s a perfect match.



JJudy accidentally poured the tea leaves over the strainer into her mug, so to strain it she transferred it to the only available drinking device which was a bowl.  From our French toast breakfast.


We did indeed have French toast, and then we wandered off with a French girl to the small mountain in the North called Kok Tobe (blue mountain) of the city.  Ann-Sophie speaks Russian so she negotiated a taxi ride to the entrance and Judy and we joked that everyone should have a beautiful blonde woman who speaks the local language to travel with since it opens so many doors.  It wasn’t really a joke, since I highly recommend it.  We walked the rest of the way to the top where we played and took photos, and I missed my Kyrgyz mountains which were so much better.  We went back to the hostel, made lunch together (our usual arrangement of her cooking and me cleaning) and then Judy and I bought ice cream to eat at the top of monkey bars.  (Now you see why we were instant friends.)



 Falcon (advertised as “mini zoo”) and view of the city from halfway up


I eventually left in search of a mall that may have a charger for my camera and did not realize it was 45 minutes walking away, with 20 minutes wandering around inside looking for the electronic shops (which didn’t have the charger), and another 45 minutes back.  I came back and, in blatant disregard for my 10:00 curfew (because of my early flight the next day), I went out for dinner with Judy, her boyfriend, and his colleague who were in town for business.  Three of us are vegetarians (wow!) and it took at least ten minutes to order food that we knew was vegetarian.  It took small amounts of Russian, hand gestures, and a lot of convincing that “no meat” really is what we meant. We ordered plov which I was skeptical about, having only ever had it with the meat picked out.  That’s exactly what happened, but we tried to enjoy the meal nonetheless.  On the walk home, I noticed my left foot wasn’t doing so hot, but that only became apparent once we had left taxi territory.  Having never had any problems of the feet in the past, it was a new experience full of, “oww, what is happening?!”  I hobbled home by walking on just the toes and trying not to put any extra stress on my ankle.   The only source of the pain that I can locate is the impromptu two hours of walking around the shoddy sidewalks of Almaty (but still better than Bishkek) in heavy socks and sandals.  Who knows.


We got back to the hostel and I pushed my bedtime back even further so Judy could show me the wonder of the actor Tom Hiddleston’s dance moves called “snake hips.”  I then proceeded to rock Judy’s world by showing her I have some of the same moves.  I think she is forever scarred by the unexpected display of American club moves.  THEN I started packing and went to sleep a little before midnight….  And woke up at 2:30 am for a 2:45 taxi pickup for a 3:10 airport delivery for a 5:30 flight.  Ugh.  And my ankle was even worse so I had to wrap it with athletic tape that I kept in my bag specifically to ward off the need of it.  I’ll spare you the details of my trip from Almaty to Istanbul to Paris.


Well, almost all of the details.  Since I woke up so early, I didn’t notice until it was too late that I had only been able to print the first of my two boarding passes the night before.  So upon arriving to Istanbul (and actually crying because it finally hit me that my Kyrgyz mountains were gone) I found a ticket counter and asked them to print my ticket.  Twenty minutes later I still had nothing and my plane was set to leave in a half hour.  The absolutely tiny yet impressively stern woman who had been making phone calls and glaring at her computer eventually hand-wrote a boarding card, walked with me through security (outpacing me easily despite the six or eight inches I had on her in height) and led me to the gate.  We waited until all of the other passengers had gotten on the shuttles to the plane, her checking the computer every few minutes, and I was eventually sent on the bus with instructions to the driver.  I still have NO idea what the problem was, but now I have this fancy personalized boarding pass.



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Finale, Goodbyes

This is a particularly sad post because of how many goodbyes there were.  I just had to tell it like it is.  Prepare yourself (ma)!


While the one that fell off the horse recovered, I woke up and went hiking to find petroglyphs with two of the three Swiss girls.  We didn’t find any, but we had a pleasant 3 hour walk to the next village and back.  I saw a mule for the first time in Kyrgyzstan and that reminded me that, isn’t it odd in a place chock full of horses and donkeys that there aren’t any mules?!  There must be a reason, but I didn’t have time to figure it out.


The menfolk finally finished cutting the hay that day.  Yay!  Later that night, I went with Bek and Nora to pick up forty kilos of sugar for jam-making.  Bek drove the car and I accidentally got shotgun (I was a bit mortified).  Someone had recently laid out piles of rocks to be spread out along the road ut they hadn’t yet so we ended up dodging giant mounds of rocks for most of the way there.  It was certainly an experience.  We went to two different shops to find that much sugar.  Nora wouldn’t let me carry the bag to the car and I for damn sure wasn’t going to let her do it so I settled on a compromise: I called Bek from the car.  Perfect solution, if I say so myself.  Bek then told me he was headed off to another village for a friend’s birthday party, and that his dad wouldn’t let him have the car.  There are no laws against riding a horse after having had a few drinks, so Bek riding Ishen instead of driving is probably for the better.  I kind of love this country.


The next day I mostly helped prepare food for the jam.  Nora unloaded dozens of kilos of fruit off a van that was selling fruit fresh from the Issyk Kul region and I helped unload some of it.  I, quite strangely, got a high five from a Kyrgyz man as I was walking to the van and no, I’m pretty sure I didn’t misunderstand a cultural cue; he really did want a high five.  Siuta and I thought it was funny and bizarre and I’ll never know what was going on in his head.  We later walked to two grocery store to get more food and Siuta yelled her first fully-formed English sentence, “No, McKenna!  I carry!” since, of course, we were arguing about who would carry the heavy bag.  I cut apricots and picked the stems off many sour cherries before dinner.  I was called from my room in order to watch Ishen get shoes.  It was a mildly brutal experience involving a hammer.  Ishen clearly didn’t like it but hadn’t gotten used to it like the others had, since it was only his second set.  They tied up each foot as they worked on it and I caught Jekshen cuddling Ishen to calm him down.  It was certainly a relevant experience for my project.  If ever Ishen hopped away or fidgeted too much everyone said “tak!” which translates to “easy!” and that was said a lot, frequently at a yell (which I think defeats the purpose just a bit).


Bek and I had a celebratory “last night together beer” which was everything a goodbye beer ought to be.  We talked about him visiting Mississippi someday and my eventual return to Kyrgyzstan.  I finally got the nerve to ask a two-part question I’ve been wondering for ages.  I said, “Bek, you know how everyone here says we should get married?  Why is that?”  “Welcome to Kyrgyzstan,” was his succinct reply.  Perfect.  I then said, “And whenever we ride horses and people ask if I’m your girlfriend, do you say yes?”  “Sometimes.”  Just as I suspected.  Never trust a 19 year old boy to be an accurate translator.


I was not looking forward to the next day as it was the first day of Bek’s 10 day horse trek to Issyk Kul.  There were meant to be two tourists coming at twelve for lunch and an eventual departure.  Noon came and went and it seemed like they would have to depart the next day.  We spent all morning assembling the goods into boxes and bags that would go on the pack horse: food, fuel, water, tents, etc.  I watched Bek fix a broken piece of tack and took a photograph of the saddle he was working on.  He said, “not that one!  Take a photo of the new one on Ishen, but not that one!”  Turns out he’s embarrassed by his saddle.  I will never ceased to be amazed here.


After lunch he sewed a huge backpack strap back together with a scary needle/crochet hook thingamabob.  We didn’t want to say goodbye and played and talked for as much of the afternoon as we could.  Eventually, the tourists showed up after 4.  Jekshen (pronounced like “objection!”) decided that, rather than start a day later after spending the whole day preparing, or plotting a new 9-day route instead of a 10-day, that Bek and his uncle (the other guide) would ride for four hours with the horses and make camp at a place that Jekshen could drive the tourists in the morning.  That was a complicated plan to get across to me, but I eventually understood.  We had tea with the new British fellows and the family ate in the kitchen.  I wanted to eat with them, but Nora told me to babysit.  I wouldn’t have minded (as they were pleasant guys) except that Bek was soon to leave. 


I eventually ran away to check that they weren’t leaving without me and reminded everyone that we had to take family photos.  We assembled at the yurt and it was truly a celebratory atmosphere.  Bek tiptoed around the yurt because he already had his heavy-duty boots on, and told us to say “koumiss” as we smiled for the camera.  I tickled Siuta to get her to smile.  Nora made me and Bek take a photo in the “traditional dress” she keeps around for tourists and they called me kilin for the last time.  I asked Siuta to get in the photo with us and when she refused, I picked her up and made her get in the photo with us.  Bek said, “our daughter,” and laughed his supremely tickled laugh that I will never forget (ahaHA!).  We walked to where the horses were waiting and play-fought the whole way, fully aware that it would be the last time for quite a while.  I said goodbye to my little brother, and when Siuta saw the tears I told her they were for Ishen.  Nobody was fooled.


I distracted myself by spending the evening with the Brits.  I told them when they saw Bek the next morning to pass on the message, “Mac says be careful, stupid goat.”  They then morphed this wonderfully adorable sentiment into “Mac says please will you marry me stupid goat?” and plotted their torture of Bek for the next week and a half.  On several occasions I accidentally called them disproportionate insults because I was so used to calling Bek anything without him understanding that apparently, over time, it had escalated to dramatic proportions.  They were polite (surprised?) enough not to point out my folly.


The next morning Jekshen drove me to the bus stop and waited for the bus to Kemin with me in order to tell the driver where to make sure I got off.  How sweet.  He then drove the tourists the rest of the way to their drop off point and we went our separate ways.  From Kemin I waited for an hour for a bus to Karakol which is on the furthest side of lake Issyk Kul, but the only one I saw didn’t stop.  All of the taxi drivers had asked me where was I going and did I need a taxi so by the time a bus to Cholpon-ata arrived, they shooed me onto the bus.  They said I could get a bus to Karakol from there but I decided anywhere on the lake was good enough for me and that was as good a stop as any. 


Three and a half hours and a drunk Russian with a thing for me later, I made it off the bus and wandered for five minutes before asking where to find a guest house.  Guess where I asked?  At a guest house.  I was exhausted and tired of being pestered by the drunk man and had just run away from the stop to get away from him, and I really used up a cache of luck with that one.  I relaxed for an hour then went to the lake.  I stopped at a grocery for some snacks since I’d been on a bus for lunch and spent three hours at the lake.  I read in the shade for an hour and a half and “swam” for the same amount of time.  Issyk Kul literally translates to “hot lake” because it never freezes, but that meant there were layers of hot and cold water from top to bottom.  Whichever inch of my body was closest to the surface was frigid and the rest was fine.  I spent thirty minutes inching my way further out when a man came and spoke Russian to me.  I apologized that I don’t speak Russian and he said, “oh, English!”  What are the odds that the one person who came to speak to me was also the one person that spoke English at the beach?  He was from Cholpon-ata and mentioned that he played cok buru (the dead goat game) in his youth as casually as if he was saying, “yeah, I used to play football.”  He thought I couldn’t swim since I was standing for so long staring at my bag on the shore and offered to teach me.  We swam out together and he was surprised that I actually know how to swim.  Even living on a giant lake, he only learned how to swim when he was 10.


I had been planning on spending a full day at the lake, but being away from my Kyrgyz family when I had so little time left in the country in order to spend time alone at a vacation spot seemed like a stupid endeavor.  The next morning I had breakfast at the guest house where a Chechen woman showed me every photo on her phone of her family.  Then I wandered around looking for the bus to Kemin where, yet again, a taxi driver helped me find my way.  I repeated the process in reverse and took a shared taxi from Kemin to Chon Kemin.  I was really proud when I was able to point to where he should drop me.  I showed up at the house and everything was back to normal again, except I knew I was leaving the next day.


I saw seven pair of shoes at the door and asked Nora where all the tourists were.  She said three were riding and Gurzada (her daughter) was with Alisher (the toddler) which made no sense.  We washed cucumbers as the uncommon crew that we were: Nora, the owner of a profitable tourist business; Siuta, the borrowed niece; and the American Goat.  Eventually Nora said the tourists were nearly back and we went to help them off the horses.  I saw Gurzada ride a horse!  Now the lady count is up to four!  She had been out with her three Dutch tourists (who just have lots of shoes, it turns out) and they picked up her son on the way back.  We had a companionable last day finishing washing the cucumbers.  Gurzada translated that Nora wishes I could stay for one or two years, which is incredibly flattering and made our goodbyes that much harder.  Alisher was stung by a wasp (all I could think was “better you than me, kid”) and slept much of the afternoon and was grumpily woken up for dinner.  He begged loudly that he be driven back to where he would sleep by car rather than ride a horse.  Again, I love this country, where the options are “car” or “horse.”


I had to say goodbye to Jekshen that night because he was leaving at 6:30 in the morning to drive more supplies to the trekkers, and at dinner Gurzada translated his goodbye to me.  We all had a few silent tears running down our faces.  I’ve never felt so attached to someone I was unable to communicate with.  But it never took words to indicate that seeing me put a smile on his face, the laughs we shared that crossed language boundaries, or how grateful he was that I stepped in and happily became a member of the family.  Back at the house, I got my surprise: I’d written a thoughtful thank you/goodbye letter and sent it to Adinay in Bishkek to translate into Kyrgyz and laboriously copied the Cyrillic.  Nora read it out to Jekshen, Siuta, and Gurzada (who had proofread it) and we all cried, this time with even more emotion.  My favorite line that I wrote was “I was barely even homesick because it felt like I was home.”  Jekshen gave me a huge bear-hug and there was not a dry eye for 10 minutes.  I eventually had to go finish packing and they had to drive Alisher home.  I was left alone with a box of family photos and I looked at every single one.  There was a wedding photo with at least 50 family members in it; photos of Nora and Jekshen when they were younger; Bek dressed up as the Lone Ranger; Nora racing in the “kiss the girl” game; and so many family gatherings in the yurt.  It was a nice way to mentally say goodbye to the wonderful place and people I had come to love.


The next morning I hitched a ride with the tourists going up to the main road and had a very quick goodbye with Nora and Siuta.  I can still picture their faces exactly as they waved at me from outside the van and called to me to come back soon.  Siuta hugged herself with one hand and waved with the other, wearing the same shirt I’d seen on her aunt in a photo from 10 years before.  I think they are afraid I will never come back, but while I probably won’t ever stay for one or two years, I will definitely return one day.  Just as we arrived at the main road, Gurzada saw that the bus to Bishkek was stopping and we ran to get on it.  I got one last hug and she wished me a safe journey as we both cried.  I didn’t stop until after Kemin (30 minutes away) as I grieved for the loss of that part of my life I can never recreate.


Whatever my final thoughts about this place, I don’t know if anywhere else I can sit on a bench as the sun goes down and listen to a horse rhythmically munch grass with as much regularity as I have here.  Even at home I have never sat on a horse blanket next to a horse as he grazes while tied to my friend’s foot.  I haven’t heard teenagers complain, “man, dad won’t let me have the car!  Guess I’ll have to take the horse,” or toddlers cry to be driven home rather than ride.  I’ve definitely never seen someone ride a horse while carrying a scythe.  As I was in Issyk Kul I speculated that the longer I stay in this country, the more of it gets in my soul, which is a crazy thought.  On the one hand, it means I got out while I still could, but on the other, I could feel that larger and larger parts of my heart were going to stay in that place with each passing day.  I think that will happen to some extent in each place that I stay for this length of time during my year.  But while I can never have those specific moments back, I can make new memories in the future when I return, and I will always think fondly of Kyrgyzstan.


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Avarica was a bad boy today.  He went out with three Swiss girls and decided to scoot further away from another horse while grazing which meant his tourist fell off.  She hurt her back, her arm, and was dizzy later that evening but feeling a bit better the next day.  Bek brought the horses down and Jekshen drove up to pick them up and drive them back to the house.  He was adorably concerned.


Ryan (who is the American in Bishkek that set up my travels) had mentioned that his parents were visiting for the first time in the two years that they have been in Kyrgyzstan.  Turns out, they landed at our doorstep!  The whole family (ma, pa, wife, niece) showed up before the Swiss got back.  We had a lovely lunch eating in the yurt and the Southern accents were welcomed.  I had a chance to share stories about Kyrgyz/English difficulties (eat/dog, bitchfork, “give it to me”) and it turns out they work even better in person.  Beth and I also co-created a poem when discussing the myriad Dutch travelers that come through Kyrgyzstan:


Roses are red

Violets are blue

The Dutch are everywhere

The Dutch are huge


Yep that about sums that up.  They went out for a ride and I was very confused to see that Bek was not riding Adrenaline!  He rode Avarica, which I later surmised is because he’d acted up on the last ride (but I didn’t know that yet).  We loaded the tourists up on the horses and off they went.  When they came back, most everyone had trouble walking.  And THAT is why we take our newbies out for only an hour at home.


At this point I’d basically forced Bek into taking me with him when he took the horses to the mountains (jailoo, summer pastures) for the night.  He’d always slipped off after dinner to do this, or left way after sundown, or just plain didn’t invite me.  But somehow I managed to be convincing and I was allowed to come.  I went to put on my shoes and grab my medicine (epipen and inhaler) that I take everywhere.  I turned my room upside down looking for them.  Twice.  I then told Bek I couldn’t find it and he asked me to please check my room.  I checked again.  I deduced that it must have fallen out of my bag on the ride down from the mountains cutting hay the day before.  Or gotten left behind.  The more I thought about it the more I remembered the feeling that I had before I left the day before.  Bek ran back up the hill to get my backpack for me and it felt strange, like by letting him take care of that action, something was wrong.  I figured that must mean I hadn’t put my medicine in the bag.  He suggested he would go get the medicine and then take the horses the rest of the way into the mountains without me since I didn’t have my bee protection.  There was no way I was going to let him take back his offer of taking me with him (even if it was bullied out of him in the first place).  I had not encountered any bees on the ride up to the hay fields (just lying in wait for me there).  At this point it is necessary to mention that I have cultivated a “careless American” image because I would leave my phone all over the place.  The feelings of disappointment at my carelessness were seeping off Nora and Bek in waves.  It was a glum ride up to the hay fields and I was too wrapped up in my own gloomy thoughts (where did I leave it, how did it get there, is it still there, how do I get a new one if I can’t find it, will it be expensive, how long will I spend in Bishkek) to notice that I was ponying a horse behind me for the first time.  It would have been neat if I had noticed.  Bek and I eventually got to the tree that had held my bag the day before and he hopped off to check it out and….


It was there.


I collapsed against Ishen’s neck in my relief.  We both exclaimed happily in English (me more colorfully since I always know Bek has no idea what I’m saying).  Bek asked for a play by play of how it got left there and I said I must have set the medicine down next to the backpack while I put on sunscreen.  He said, incredulous, “you forgot your medicine, but remembered your sunscreen?!”  Bek then told me he would be in charge of my epipen for the remainder of the journey.  I took great offense at being treated like a child and I then pointed out his minor role in the events.  I must be getting more persuasive because I was allowed to keep track of them myself.  We trucked on up to the mountain pastures.


It sounds so easy…..  But it was actually about two more hours of riding.  To get from the hay fields to the regular road we galloped through the foothills of the mountains.  I’ll be damned if I was going to say “Bek, this little ole lady can’t keep up, can you slow your roll?”  I was originally sitting on my jacket which was quite slippery.  I fixed that and then my cap almost blew off.  I fixed my hair into a ponytail and put the cap back.  At this point Bek had gotten quite far away and I had to let Ishen have his head as we raced to catch up.  I might have held on to the saddle to maintain my seat…  It didn’t feel particularly safe, and I wondered if we would be riding like this for two hours.  Just as I had that thought, we came down to a valley and saw Bek.  He had a terrified look on his face and said “why did you go over that rock?!”  I still have no idea what that meant, but it all worked out.  (Ma, start breathing again.)


We rode higher and higher.  Occasionally the rope would pull taught as Gogoosh got too far behind Ishen and I would squeak at the sudden halt.  Bek stopped in order to talk and I made the mistake of letting Gogoosh get in front of us when he was still tied behind us.  He snapped part of his halter and Bek had to get down and fix the halter and push Gogoosh back behind us.  Later, we were crossing a river and Bek got down to get some water.  Ishen wandered a few steps to the right of the pass down into the water and when it came time to cross, it required a large hop down the rocks.  I squealed.  Bek turned around with yet another, “why on earth did I bring this chick?” looks on his face. 


The next time we crossed a river, Bek stopped for water again.  Did I mention he’s a bit miffed that I don’t drink the stream water?  Well as he got back on Adrenaline, Avarica chose to be a bad horse again.  He tried to kick Ishen because we were invading his bubble, and instead of kicking the horse he got the bottom of my foot.  At that point I can’t get away with saying “squeaked” or “squealed” because “screamed” is probably more accurate.  I felt the shock waves travel from the bottom of my boot up to my knee.  I told Bek what happened and that I thought my leg was ok and further up the trail I got down to test it.  The first time I fell off a horse I was fine; the first time I am kicked by a horse I’m a-ok.  I’ll just have to be more careful for the second time because I’ve used up that luck.


Once we were no longer worried about rivers or poorly-behaved horses, Bek flipped around in his saddle and rode backwards just to brag about his Kyrgyz abilities.  I reeeeeeeally wanted to try but I decided not to push my luck.  Finally reaching the pastures, there was a huge pen of goats and sheep and some puppies!  I had fun playing with the puppies, but their personal space boundaries weren’t great.  Bek really wanted to catch a goat but it clearly freaked them out whenever he tried.  He mentioned “there are 600 in there” and I said “huh, I woulda guessed 60″ and he laughed his ass off.  Like being unable to estimate the number of sheep in a pen is the funniest thing ever.  Gah, Kyrgyzstan.


While we were there, we dropped off supplies for the man who stays with the sheep.  Apparently his nephew usually does it, but he’s filling in for a month.  Then it took at least two hours to ride back to Chon Kemin.  I kept asking what do we do when it gets dark and Bek said you can see.  I figured this means he has super hero-level night vision.  I was wrong.  The moon was so bright that we actually had shadows!  It was difficult to teach the word “shadow” even with such a great example following us. He kept teaching me the names of plants I was accidentally pointing at.  Since we were both riding Ishen back down (with the second saddle tied up on the side; heaven forbid we leave it there) I tickled him and learned the word in Kyrgyz: cuhtuhguh (but all of the syllables are said from the back of your throat). 


Back at home around 10:30, Bek held up his hands in offering to catch me on my descent from the horse, much the way he’d scooped Dara off the day before.  Thinking, “he must know what he’s doing, why not?” I slid down into his arms and we nearly fell into the sand pile behind him.  Not graceful; not like a ballerina; like a drunken dismount.  Laughter commenced.  Lesson learned.

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