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The Story of Toru-Aigyr/Тору-Айгыр

January 26, 2015 | Grand Plan | Permalink


On the shore of lake Issyk Kul lived a small boy, an orphan, who at birth was named Bakyt, almost in mockery because Bakyt means happiness in Kyrgyz. This boy’s parents died while he was young. He himself expected a quick death from starvation, but a rich neighbor felt for the boy, and, more importantly, wanted the land of his dead parents, so he adopted the boy and sent him to work in the fields of his dead parents.

Bakyt slept with the cattle and ate whatever fell from his adopted father’s table. When Bakyt turned 17, his adopted father gave him a half-dead foal as a gift for all his hard work over the years. All the master horsemen in the village predicted the imminent death of the foal, but Bakyt took care of it and the foal turned out to be a beautiful chestnut pacer horse. Bakyt so impressed his adopted father that he entrusted Bakyt to caring for his large herd of horses.

Bakyt not only protected the herd from blood-thirsty wolves and horse-thieves, but he also trained them for jumping and other equestrian competitions. All of Bakyt’s horses were good horses, but the best of them all was the skally-wag foal he raised. In all competitions, that horse won first place. Bakyt named his horse Toru-Aigyr.

Big money was offered for Toru-Aigyr, but Bakyt refused to sell him. The horse was his friend. Likewise, the horse lived for Bakyt. Toru-Aigyr could identify Bakyt from a great distance. And when his owner was sad, Toru-Aigyr would make him feel better.

One night, a black soul came and knocked Bakyt out with a large club, almost killing him. When he came to, he realized his trusty steed was missing. He searched everywhere for Toru-Aigyr, but could find him nowhere. Bakyt and the villagers realized Toru-Aigyr was gone for good.

Meanwhile, on the other side of lake Issyk Kul, a handsome horse fought for his freedom. The herdsmen on the southern shore of the lake could not keep the horse under control. They decided to hobble the horse, to keep him from escaping. One night, the guards fell asleep, and Toru-Aigyr decided to run north, where he knew his friend Bakyt was. It was hard for him to run because of his legs being hobbled. The guards woke and gave chase, catching up with the horse just as he arrived at the southern shore of the lake. The guards called him back, but Toru-Aigyr ignored them and jumped into the lake.

Toru-Aigyr swam to the northern shore. The swim was difficult for him. The salty water rubbed against his fetters, his muscles ached, waves rolled over him, filling his ears, yet he continued to swim. Finally, with his last effort, Toru-Aigyr reached the shore, giving out a loud neigh, to call out to his friend Bakyt.

Bakyt heard the call of his friend and rushed to the lake, where he found Toru-Aigyr. He wrapped his arms around the neck of the horse, shouting with joy. But the journey was too difficult for Toru-Aigyr, and with two tears running from his beautiful brown eyes, he fell down dead at Bakyt’s feet.

To this day there is a village on the place where the horse died named Toru-Aigyr.

Why do I tell you, dear reader(s), this fairy-tale? I think this might answer your question:

Toru-Aigyr swim route

Toru-Aigyr swim route

Akhmed Anarbayev/ Ахмед Анарбаев

January 21, 2015 | Grand Plan, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

Ахмед Анарбаев

Ахмед Анарбаев

Learned of this gentleman from our local embassy doctor. He lives somewhere here in Kyrgyzstan (not in Bishkek, as Wikipedia says), and the doctor has promised she’ll introduce me to him the next time he’s in the city.

The exciting part of this is that Mr Anarbayev apparently crossed lake Issyk Kul some years ago in 1982. His route took him 35 kilometers in 11 hours, with a tailwind, in 16C water. I intend on interviewing him so I can get some details, in English, on his accomplishment.

Anarbayev on the left.

Anarbayev on the left.

In 1968, he represented the USSR at the Mexico City Olympics, but didn’t make the finals in the 400 free. In 1970, he improved on his performance with a silver in the European Championships. In 1991, he and some other Kyrgyz swimmers attempted to repeat Lynn Cox’s historic swim from the USSR to Alaska. The water was 6C, and the group were not allowed to swim. In 2001, he took part in a Bering Strait swim.


He is also the organizer of an annual open water festival at lake Issyk Kul. The tournament consists of a few short events, 50 and 100-free, and a 100 medley. Also there is a 500 meter mass start swim. That should occur in August; if I get to attend, I’ll blog about it!


500m mass-start from 2014 Issyk Kul swim festival.


Issyk Kul!

January 20, 2015 | Grand Plan | Permalink

Went to ski in Kara-Kol this weekend. The greatest part of the trip was our passing the lake. What a beautiful lake. OMG.


Lake Issyk Kul from west of Cholpon Ata

The lake is just as beautiful as in the pictures. On Monday we stopped at a nice little beach so we could dip our toes in the water. Unbeknownst to me, the Soviet-Korean doctor that accompanied us stripped to a red bikini and jumped into the lake. It was Epiphany, after all.

I didn’t bring my suit, unfortunately. My wife recommended I take off my jeans and jump in. Just as I was taking my belt off, my kids begged me, “Please dad, no.” I guess they didn’t want the 20 others to see their dad in his skivvies.



Talked with the doctor and compared notes. The doctor agreed the water was above 10C, I’m thinking in the 12-13C range. Not bad for January at 42° north latitude. The lake is purportedly lightly salty, but I didn’t taste any. Water tasted very clean.

The wife and I and 3/4 of our kids at Issyk Kul.

The wife and I and 3/4 of our kids at Issyk Kul.

I learned something new today about lake Issyk Kul, about which I’ll blog tomorrow.


Wow! Look at the numbers!

January 14, 2015 | Humor | Permalink

Thanks to all my dear readers. (Notice the -s- is not in parentheses, for once.) The last three days my blog had huge numbers. Well, huge for me. I had 77 views on 11 January, the best in a long time. I haven’t had numbers like that since I live-blogged Diana Nyad on Dancing with the Stars.

I’ve had over 200 views since the 11th. That’s awesome. I know many of my FB friends who read these posts on FB hear from me too many times, begging them to comment or read on the actual blog. Perhaps my delicate proddings (“Comment on my blog, dork!”) were finally heard?!

Found another lake

January 10, 2015 | Uncategorized | Permalink

Had lunch with a buddy of mine on Friday. He’s stationed in Batken, in southern Kyrgyzstan. Batken is nice, beautiful down there. While we were eating, I looked on my phone and found a spot of blue down by my buddy’s house.

There’s a small reservoir to the southwest of Batken, about 4.7km long. I drove by it last October. It was beautiful, very blue. I wanted to stop, but we were late to our appointment, so we decided to wait until the drive back to Batken. When, of course, it was dark and raining. So no picture. Unfortunately.

My buddy said he’d help me arrange it. Perhaps I can get him to kayak for me. What do you say, Bill?

Je suis Charlie

January 8, 2015 | Uncategorized | Permalink

Was too busy at work today to go swim. Sadly.

But today my thoughts are not on swimming. My thoughts are on my French friends and their families after the horrible tragedy at Charlie Hebdo.


The murders yesterday by those “men” in Paris was cowardly and deplorable. The cartoonists and editors of the satirical magazine had been fire-bombed before, and they bravely said Je ne vais pas prendre votre merde, and continued on. The Chief Editor famously said “I’d rather die standing than live on my knees.” He died yesterday…standing, I imagine.


It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.*

Bravest man in France, Charlie Hebdo editor/cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier

Bravest man in France, Charlie Hebdo editor/cartoonist Stephane Charbonnier




С рождеством!

January 7, 2015 | Humor, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

I know if you've been good or bad. And everything else you've been doing.

I know if you’ve been good or bad. And everything else you’ve been doing.

Today is Christmas for the Orthodox Christians of the world. Thus the Russian greeting in my blog post title. The embassy is closed today, but I can’t not wake up early so I took advantage and went swimming this morning.

Kalipso doesn’t open until 8am, so my waking at 8:15 didn’t bother me any. I figured it would be empty in the pool. Upon arrival at 8:30, I realized how wrong I was. About 4 kids in one lane, and occasionally in the other lane. In that other lane, the one I had my eyes on, was one adult swimmer who looked like he knew about swimming in circles. There was another adult standing at the end of the kid lane, so I thought maybe he was waiting for the kids to leave. After a minute I realized he was coaching some of these kids.

My usual preps done, I walked out and put my equipment at the end of the lane with the other adult. I went over to my lane, and started my swim. For the most part, it went well. I had, at various times, 3-4 (one kid might have actually been two kids) other swimmers in my lane. If the swimmer was an adult, then the lane etiquette went well. If the other swimmer was a kid, anything goes/went.

The kid (or kids?) that spent the most time in the lane did all the things that annoy regular lap swimmers. Stop in the middle of the lane. Hang on the lane line with legs floating up into the travel-path of the lane. Push off from the wall just as you’re flipping and about to start your next lap.

But the 3000m for the most part went well. In the locker room, two kids (probably two of the two or three that swam with me) were mucking about, using their best Russian swear words in front of me, probably thinking I didn’t understand (my knowledge of Russian мат is way better than my knowledge of normal “literate” Russian). I ignored them. Let them have their fun. Then one of them asked me for the time, and even said thanks when I told him. THAT RARELY EVER HAPPENS. I was surprised. Pleasantly. Those kids are alright.

Another good swim

January 6, 2015 | Humor, Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

Got another good swim in today at Kalipso. The water still looks dirty. My white swim caps are becoming less and less white. Unsure what’s in the water, but I’m choosing to ignore it. And just washing my ears out really well and then drinking something that’ll kill the bugs in my stomach. “Who wants to get daddy his Vodka?”

Had a kid join me today who learned swim etiquette the hard way when I swam over him. He deserved it, dear reader(s), fear not, as he pushed off the wall just as I was flipping, and he had fins on as well. He left shortly after. I spent a few laps trying to remember how to say  in Russian “Hey, jackass, don’t push off the wall just as I’m swimming in!” (Эй! Осел! Не прыгай от стены в тот же момент когда я доплаваю до стены! or something like that.) Like I said, he’s lucky he got out of the pool before I could compose that delightful phrase in my head.

Then there was one of the babushkas who decided to cross from her lane over to the steps just as I was kicking off the wall. Swam over her, too. But she survived the Soviet Union and possibly WWII (sorry, I mean, “the Great Patriotic War“), so it probably didn’t even phase her.

I had one other lane-mate swimming with me today and he followed Ye Universal Pool Essential Etiquette and Deportment (YUPEED), and to him I send my thanks.

All in all, a great 3000m day. Got in and out and back to work in less than an hour and a half. Very nice.

Kyrgyz “lifeguards”

January 2, 2015 | Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

Went swimming again today and it was glorious. I have the day off of work, but my son needed a ride in, so I figured I’d get a swim in. Kalipso opens at 0800 and my son had to be at work by 0830, so it turned out perfect!

Today when I went in, there was a mom sitting in the lobby looking, or trying to look, through a very fogged-over window at her kids swimming. She kept yelling at one of them “Where’s Ardan?” She was bundled up in her winter gear and I can only assume was not out on the pool deck because she didn’t bring her sandals to change into!

Went through the usual rigmarole. All as previously reported except lights in the shower area! Hurrah! I can see where I’m stepping. No lifeguard watching me change or ensuring I showered. And no lifeguard in the pool area, either. When I walked in, I could hear kids on the other end of the pool over by the intricate slide, but I couldn’t see them. Lights were non-existent and the whole area was misty.

Once in my lane (and yes, I parked my sandals by the stairs and walked in the easy way), I realized I couldn’t see the other end of the lane. Fog sitting on top of the water. Those kids managed to make their way over to my end and I could see they were about 8 and 10, a girl and boy. One glance told me that Mom was still dutifully watching them through the foggy window.

I did my workout, all alone in my lane, swimming 30% farther than the last time. Arms and shoulders felt good, but didn’t want to push it. Laughed that what I swam today was about half of what I was swimming each time when I was prepping for Swim the Suck. But that’s ok. Gotta take it slow to get back up to speed; don’t want an injury to take me out after just starting back up.

After my shower and getting dressed, the lifeguard came into the locker room. He recognized me from the last time. He was in full outside regalia; I think he had just shown up for work. When my ~hour of swimming was done those kids were still in there, riding the slides, sitting in the hot tub, noodling around in the pool, nary a lifeguard to be found.

When I mentioned this to my wife, she asked me “Would you rather have anarchy or them watching your every move?” I guess I’m torn on that. Selfishly, I’d rather have anarchy. The pass I bought for the pool gives me 45 or 60 minutes (can’t remember what they told me) of swimming each time, and when I get my stamina back and start swimming for 90-120 minutes each time, I don’t want them kicking me out of the pool. But those kids…  Just not sure. This is the Former Soviet Union. For all I know they’ve got cameras that they’re watching from the comfort of the lobby. And that big picture window is large enough to observer the entire pool, when it isn’t covered in condensation, that is.

You know what happens when you don’t swim for 4+ months?

December 30, 2014 | Swimming Anthropology | Permalink

You can’t lift your arms. That’s what happens.

So I went swimming today for the first time since my 5K in August, and before that, I don’t even remember when I last swam. Must have been sometime in June maybe. Nope, just remembered I have a log. Yep, July 10th was the last time I swam, except for that 5K in August.

Again, I went swimming today at a local indoor pool called Kalipso / Калипсо. I went ready to be turned away, based on my experiences in Russia. Readers of my blog will remember my series “Swimming Anthropology.” Russia requires crazy things like doctor’s notes (справка) before being allowed through the door of the pool. Oh, and don’t forget your swim cap. And your bag to put your outdoors shoes in before you even walk into the locker room. The locker room commanded by a Russian grandma, or babushka, sitting right in front of you and your junk. And dammit, you better not swim in the lane for WWII veterans.

Kalipso indoor pool, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

So to prevent some or all of these roadblocks, I decided to do a practice run. Last week I ran by to find out about price and requirements. It was a fun use of my Russian and my beginning Kyrgyz. Swim caps required? Yes. Shoes off before entering the locker room? Yes. Cost? 3000 som (about $51) for 12 visits in a month, or 4500 som ($76) for 12 visits in a year. OK, I’m ready.

I showed up today nice and early, around 9:45. The woman at the front desk had told me that the best time to come was between 10:00 and 3:00. The pool doesn’t open till 8:00 so no chance of going before work. And apparently, after 3:00 it is crazy with noodlers, kids and “sport swimmers” (спортивные пловцы).

When I walked in and looked through the huge window overlooking the pool, I saw two empty lanes (out of two lanes!). I was excited. I handed over 3000 som. While the woman was writing my name on my card, and laughing at my name, I started taking off my shoes and put them into a bag. “Oh, you brought a bag for your shoes. Good.” Apparently, bags are required, too.

Sure as I thought that, I saw on the door to the locker room a note saying that if you don’t have your shoes in a bag, you have to leave them in the lobby. Thank goodness I brought a bag. Don’t want anyone messing with my nice dress boots.

I walked into the locker room with the lifeguard, practicing my Russian and Kyrgyz, reflecting on how nice and big the lockers were (I can bring my Speedo bag!), and how the locker room was lacking a babushka. I found my locker and started to take my pants off, with the lifeguard still there talking to me. As my legs leave my pants, a young 20-something Kyrgyz woman walks by carrying a mop. Not mopping. Just walking through the locker room. Interesting.

The lifeguard practiced his one good English sentence with me. “You. Must. Shower.”  I complimented him on his English, while at the same time wondering why he had that sentence down so well. How many Anglophones swim here that he needs to know how to say that in English? Better: How many Americans, Brits, Kiwis, Aussies, Indians, etc. swim here without showering? Yuck.

Showers are good. No lighting though. All lights broken except in the two toilet “rooms.” The swim building is nicely lit by sun so that was okay, but I wonder what happens when the sun is down? Shower had soap. That’s nice and unexpected. And the water was warm.

The pool is really mostly an amusement park type of pool. Lots of slides and shallow areas for noodlers and kids. But there are two “sport lanes ” (спортивные дорожки), both very wide, probably wide enough to do 3-4 swimmers abreast. The water wasn’t the cleanest looking. Didn’t smell of chlorine. Not sure how they clean it. I’ve heard some pools here are not equipped with filtration, which worries me. So I plan on always fully washing out my ears post natantes.

But the swim was great! It hurt immediately. My left shoulder hurt from the first length. My shoulders rarely if ever hurt! What’s up with that? The pain went away after the first 500. I was slow. 2000 meters taking me 47 minutes with about a minute rest between 500s. The real shock came when I tried to pull my ass out of the pool at the end of the workout. I couldn’t get out of the pool! Thankfully, there were only about four people in the pool at the time, all noodlers. So I dunked myself to the bottom, and rocketed out of the pool…to catch one buttock on the edge of the pool, Then I nudged the rest of my fat ass out of the pool. My arms felt so heavy! Next time I’ll park my sandals at the stairs and walk in like an old person.

Today felt really good in the end. I missed swimming. And I’m glad I found a place I can swim in regularly. Hopefully today won’t be the last time I swim while in Kyrgyzstan.