We began our day by congregating on a corner, awaiting the arrival of 3 other co-workers. The five of us piled into a right-hand drive Honda van and began the journey. Out of the city, through various towns and villages for 2 hours we drove. We stopped at a "rest stop" - not quite the same as the ones along I-5- for an early lunch. Fantastic, delicious lagman was on the menu. Back on the road again, we journeyed two and a half more hours until we reached The Kyrgyz Seaside Sanatorium.
Through a gate, up the stone stairs, past the tallest rose bushes we've ever seen, through the glass doors. BAM. The smell of solvents and/or musty carpet was the first to greet us. It is clear that this place is operating at a fraction of its former glory. Continuing through the indoor gardens to the reception desk...
After dancing on our heads to communicate, the receptionist and I finally had success. Truth be told, I enjoyed being the only one in the group who could at least dance and gesture and speak well enough in Russian to be understood and serve as a interpreter for everyone else. We found out that the group would eat lunch today and we were all assigned rooms 611,610,609 (our room), 608.
"What? No. We have great co-workers and they are quickly becoming our friends....but please...I'd rather not have a room in the midst of them. Something already tells me that this place is not bursting at the seams, please, lady, put us in a different room. But how does one ask that in Russian? Oh well, we must make the best of the situation."
Off we go to our respective rooms. Peter and I enter only to see two single beds. Groan. Down we go, (after I frantically looked through my russian notes for the word "bed" with no luck) back to the receptionist. With some more dancing, gesturing and befuddled Russian words, she gives a room with 1 "bolshoeye"(big) bed, and it is a few doors down the hall from the others. Well, success there. Back up to our new room, we enter, unload and ponder. Hotel rooms are lonely places and ones from the Soviet era are worse. Our souls begin to tremble.
Down we go to lunch where we are seated all at the same table as our co-workers. And a very Soviet, very institutional, lunch stared us in the face. Gulp. Mashed potatoes swimming in butter, a carrot/cabbage salad, who knows what kind of meat. More food than we needed and none that we would choose. The panic began to rise.
Other friends from school had come to this place a couple of days previous. At the end of lunch Chris came over to tell us the scoop. The hackles rose on the back of my neck, the fight or flight reflex kicked in and all I could think was "Flee! Flee from the doctor who would poke and prod you. Flee from the mineral baths that await you! Flee from the shower and fire hose experience! Flee from the naked massages! Flee from the mysterious "rock room" and aromatherapy! Flee from mud and electricity! Flee from walking around with prescriptions in your hands for all these things! Flee from, oh gosh, flee from paying extra for colon cleansing! FLEE!!! Get out! Leave now!"
Peter, I do believe, was feeling the same panic as I. And so we fled. Directly. As soon as it was appropriate to leave the lunch table, we took our coats and sprinted (basically) outside. We were more homesick in that moment than we have been all fall. We felt stranded, in a place that we didn't pick out because we couldn't, eating food we weren't thrilled about, far away from a town, using a language we couldn't communicate in, with the option of paying extra for things that made us want to run away. We would not be partaking in any of the aforementioned treatments.
A long walk through run-down sport courts and a track that has been reduced to a single-track through the weeds took us to the lake, and what a lake it is. About 350 miles of shoreline, sitting at almost exactly a mile above sea level, and surrounded by hulking mountains. This was all the therapy we needed. A nice relaxing walk along the beautiful beach restored our spirits greatly. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Maybe we would be able to get out of there with our lives and our sanity intact. (This raises the question as to why it's called a sanitorium... do they suck one's sanity, or refresh it? I guess it depends on one's perspective.)
(A new friend always brings great joy... this guy did not disappoint)
Back in the hotel, we immediately went to the receptionist and arranged for a taxi to come and get us the next morning and take us to Gregorskoyie valley where we would be able to hike the day away. It wasn't all bad. We watched the sunset from our room.
More to come...