Istanbul, Turkey Two Y’s, a K, and a Z

There’s a Turkish man behind me who resembles a hairy lump of coal. He’s watching videos on his laptop of men with high-caliber machine guns shredding target dummies. He is chuckling with glee about this. He is as happy as a clam.

Why do all the flights around here leave in the middle of the night? 2:15am? What kind of a time is that? Who does that work for? If we were flying across the planet, sure, but I keep getting stuck on these restless little hops.

Got a row to myself in the back of the plane, though. Slept like the dead. I’ve had good luck with that on this trip.

I’ve got a 12 hour layover in Istanbul before my flight to Kyrgyzstan. I already got a good clip in Turkey a little over a year ago. It was the first one for this new video, a happy byproduct of a commercial for a Swedish travel agency. In any case, I don’t feel obligated to hunt down another one while I’m here. I’m content, instead, to catch up on sleep and email.

Both my arriving and departing flights are on Turkish Airlines, so they were nice enough to offer me a free hotel room during my layover. This gave me joy beyond words, until I was led past the airport hotel, out into a bus with 30 other men.

The bus took us out of the airport, into the city, right past the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Grand Bazaar, the Obelisk of Theodosius. I watched the Novotel go by, then the Hotel Ibis, the Holiday Inn, and a dozen other perfectly reasonable options. After a 45 minute ride, we wound up at the All Seasons Hotel.


The All Seasons seems very proud of its four star rating. I am left to wonder: four out of how many?

I did not need to see Turkey again. No offense, Turkey, but I was here in 2006 and again in 2007. I’m full of Turkey.

I am going Kyrgyzstan for a number of silly reasons. One is because I’ve never gotten an email from there. 25,000 messages and not a single one that I’m aware of from a Kyrgyz. I have a biological defect that draws me to such places.

Of course, I don’t get much email from any of the ‘stans, so why Kyrgyzstan? Well, there are seven ‘stans. Pakistan is high up on my list, but it just never seems like a good time to go.

Afghanistan? While I cultivate the appearance of intrepidity, I do have limits.

Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan is an obvious punch line with some intriguing history to boot. I came close to putting it on the itinerary, but it requires a visa in advance and my short breaks between trips don’t allow much time to circulate a passport.

Of the four remaining ‘stans, I, like most of the world, am largely indifferent. Kyrgyzstan got a big boost for being the only one that furnishes visas on arrival without prior application. You might call it the friendly ‘stan. It also has an enormous Scrabble point value. So Kyrgyzstan it is.

After making this decision, I was disappointed to learn that Turkmenistan has a really nifty place called the Burning Gates. It’s basically an active volcanic sink hole that vividly resembles an entry point into hell. Oh, well.

The thought never occurred to me that Kyrgyzstan might be anything like Borat’s fictional version of neighboring Kazakhstan. On reading up a bit, I’m stunned by how EXACTLY it sounds like it.

The most popular traditional sport is called kok boru. It involves a bunch of men on horseback hurling a decapitated goat into a circle. You might recall Sylvester Stallone’s swift mastery of the Afghani version, buzkashi, in Rambo III.

The traditional way of courting brides, still popular in rural Kyrgyzstan, is through kidnapping. Modern suitors will approach bachelorettes on the street and shove them into waiting cars. The bride’s parents are expected to give their blessing if properly consulted…or so I’ve read.

From the budget accommodation section of Lonely Planet:

Sabyrbek’s B&B
Sabyrbek offers beds and meals in his ramshackle house. Everyone shares a single shower. The cat is called Nicole Kidman and the dog bites. Unfortunately Sabyrbek’s brothers like a drink — and they don’t do it alone. Look for an unmarked gate opposite the German embassy.