Stuck in Karakol: a gloomy day in Kyrgyzstan

Posted by on Aug 8, 2013 in blog | 2 comments

Stuck in Karakol: a gloomy day in Kyrgyzstan

Thursday, Aug 8

The car will be ready by 5pm, the head mechanic said yesterday. At 5pm, the engine parts were still scattered across the floor, dozens of bolts lined up on the windshield.

Six men and a boy in green suede shoes with silver buckles lean into the engine. The boy frequently retreats to the corner to tenderly wipe his shoes with a rag. The mechanic’s right-hand man, the one I call sous-chef, keeps going behind the building to smoke weed out of a water bong made from a Fanta bottle. Another stick-thin, pale teenager in a sleeveless vest has the jitters. An older man with only four teeth, who everyone calls “Papa” and who chatters away to himself in Russian all day, seems drunk most of time. It doesn’t look good.

The head mechanic left two days ago to drive five hours to Bishkek to get the parts we need. Yesterday morning, he reappeared saying that Bishkek didn’t have the parts so he flew to Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan about 600 miles away, to get them. Of course, the only reason I know this is because the translator told me.

The translator is a university student who is studying translation. I don’t have high hopes for his career. I asked him if he knew a good restaurant in town and he replied, “I don’t like Russian.” Around midnight, after the mechanics had been working on the car for 12 hours, he sidled over and asked if we knew why the car wouldn’t start. Then he said he thought it was the battery.

The mechanic shop is not well stocked. So far, we have given the mechanics a flashlight, oil, anti-freeze, tape, Jubilee clips and a tow rope. Around 1am, we moved into the van to sleep in the backseat. For a few more hours, they banged away underneath, all huddled in the mechanic pit, calling it quits around 3am. We slept locked with a tiny black puppy called “Rat” inside the garage.

This morning was gloomy. Dean left last night in a taxi to Bishkek for a 5am flight back to Sweden. The Bandits have flights booked out of Ulaanbaatar and they can’t afford to stay any longer. This is already day four in Karakol. They drove away, headed into Kazakhstan, leaving me and Yoav behind. We said our goodbyes, Papa crouched next to us on the oil-soaked floor fiddling with the head gasket. It is a holiday today, the last day of Ramadan, but the mechanics have already reappeared. The head mechanic, the only one who inspires any confidence, is hopeful. Maybe we can still catch up with the Bandits in the next few days. That or ditch the car for a Russian Lada.

photo 1
New parts from Astana (or so they say)

photo 2

Putting the engine back together


Working late – photo by Yoav Horesh


In the garage – photo by Yoav Horesh


Goodbye to Dean – photo by Yoav Horesh



The Bandits drive away –photo by Yoav Horesh




  1. I am so sorry about the car.How much further do you have to go?

  2. Courage, Robin! I’ve moved a marker along my wall map since the beginning, and this is just a temporary situation to be stuck in one spot. Y’all are amazing. Hope they get the engine fixed asap! Han in there!!

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