Finding a ride from Bishkek to Osh, Kyrgyzstan’s second largest city, was supposed to be very straightforward.
Everyone said I just needed to go to the Marshtrutka (minibus sort of public transport) stand behind the market and ask for the ride from Bishkek to Osh. Sounded simple enough.
Ok, so I did that and it took forever.
What I should have done…
In hindsight, when traveling from Bishkek to Osh I should have started out much earlier in the day. Due to my late start, I was going to be stuck doing most of the trip at nighttime, which is a shame not only because of safety issues but also since I would miss a lot of the magnificent scenery.
I mean, you have to pass through a super long Soviet-era tunnel that happens to not have any emergency exits, and ventilation was only added around ten years ago! At least I’m not on a bicycle! But flying seemed sketchy too. In the end, I’m happy I took the car to travel from Bishkek to Osh, but if I had to do it again I would fly.
As we waited a few hours to depart, plenty of local men came up to me with their tattered spiral notebooks and asked me for my phone number. I told them I was married but I wasn’t wearing a fake ring and they couldn’t be fooled. There were other women traveling alone but the men didn’t bother them!
A mother and a small child came to wait for the ride too and I had fun practicing my Russian with the kid. The mother thought it was hilarious, but she still kept her distance.
That’s the thing- all these ladies were kind, but they all seemed to be cautious around me.
Aside from the driver and the child, the car traveling from Bishkek to Osh was full of local women. As we set off, we all sat silently. We also all strained to touch each other. It was like a weird form of yoga; our bodies all tensed up to maintain unnatural, uncomfortable positions in order to respect our personal space. Normally this would be something I’m very happy about, but having to do that for 12 or so hours at night was sort of a nightmare. Did I mention my sciatica?
It was very hot out when we got going, and the back window of that little minivan could only open a tiny bit to let in fresh air. Only the driver could control them, and oddly (and horribly) enough, he closed them right as the afternoon sun was piercing through my window. I felt like suffocating. Everyone else just fell asleep.
I later learned that some drivers do it on purpose to make people fall asleep?
There rest stop where everything changed.
I was so relieved when, after dark, we stopped at a little rest stop. It was pretty much someone’s house that happened to sell gasoline to some capacity. Some people ordered food, but pretty much all the ladies and I rushed to find the bathroom.
It was a tin structure on the verge of collapsing. It was big, too, so we all rushed into it at once, only to try to rush out all at once because it was so dirty.
There were several holes in the ground, and so we shrugged and all went to pee in the holes next to each other. There was no separation, no privacy. One grandma held the twisted door to the thing shut.
They all started laughing and laughing during the, well, peeing. It was so absurd that all of us, so cautious to keep our distance, now were all in this terrible pee-hut all together.
That shared experience broke the ice. We all shared the toilet paper someone brought. Someone else had soap.
They all tried to start chatting with me when we continued our ride from Bishkek to Osh. Our tense, acrobatic dance was over. It was ok if my leg touched the leg of the woman next to me, not a problem if our shoulders squished up against each other.
At one point she put her head on my shoulder and fell asleep.
PS…if you’re looking for a place to stay, I stayed at Nomad’s Home and also Bishkek Guesthouse in Bishkek which were both good for meeting people. In Osh I stayed at the Osh Guesthouse which was horrible yet was good for meeting other travelers, so it’s your decision…