The Kyrgyz money was pretty. The notes were small with exotic faces printed on them. Peculiarly, there were coins of 3 som, which I found fascinating. I had always assumed that the 1-2-5 systems for coins was the most economical, but when I looked at the minimal number of coins needed for sums up to 10, it didn’t seem to matter: only 2 and 7 are easier to pay in the 1-2-5 system, that is, with fewer coins, but conversely, 3 and 8 are easier to pay in the 1-3-5 system. The only other reason for preferring the 1-2-5 system I could found is that they are all factors of ten, what makes for simpler calculations.
My second day in the city I had walked to the Uzbek embassy to apply for my visa.
Do you have an appointment?
You need an appointment.
Well, I got the invitation and…
Yes… of course
Complying with the fine tradition of embassies the world over, they had made it nearly impossible to find the Uzbek embassy. It was in some godforsaken residential area on the outskirts of town, far from the civilised world. A very small shield next to the door showed that it was indeed the embassy of the proud nation of Uzbekistan. There was a small waiting room outside which I thought must be awful in the midst of winter. Inside there was a tiny office with one counter and a woman taking care of business.
The payment had to be conducted at a bank a few kilometres away. It involved another hike across some wasteland along a wide road. After paying 75 dollars, I received a slip and walked back to the embassy where I got my passport with the visa straight away. Very happy, I walked back to the hostel. After stopping for some lunch, it started to rain. I put on my rain jacket, but got wet and very cold nevertheless.
According to Wikipedia, the average high temperature for October in Bishkek should be 17.8 degrees Celsius. The day after my trek to the Uzbek embassy, it was just above zero and the snow on the roofs didn’t melt until noon. A persistent drizzle kept me indoors.
In the hostel I met a Japanese who’d been here for 3 months. A little incredulous I asked him what had kept him here for so long: he had been in the mountains he explained. He wanted to go back to Japan by train but couldn’t get the Russian visa. Later I met him when he came out of the shower. It was hard not to notice that both his feet were bandaged and so I asked what ailed him. He said he had lost his toes. All of them. It was his own fault, he said, staring at his feet, he had had the wrong shoes. It happened on the way down… I am sorry, I said. I didn’t know what else to say…
The shoemaker was sitting in a tiny shack at the roadside. He was surrounded by a pile of shoes. When I asked him how much it would cost to patch up my shoes, I was proud to understand his answer: sto. I remembered somehow that it was Russian for one hundred. That seemed a fair price.
The hostel had a tiny kitchen and local produce was very cheap, so I baked some potatoes with onions and aubergine. After that I had apples and pears for dessert. All that for half a dollar.