The players at Issy-Kul
More footballing serendipity, ex-Soviet weirdness, and Phil scores a goal to remember…
From time to time, I would look at the map of Kyrgyzstan, and wonder about the huge expanse of water that nestled in the middle of the mountains… the name “Issy-Kul” means “Hot Lake” – it never freezes, forty rivers flow into it but none flow out, and it even generates its own local climate.
Our original plan for the trip had been to visit the lake and later continue to Kashgar in China through the Torugart Pass. Unfortunately, the Chinese wanted far too much money, it was still early in the year, and the pass could stil be dangerous. As a result, we will have to make a 5000km detour to see Kashgar, but as we both wanted some rest and recuperation, we decided to go and see the lake anyway.
The mountains we wanted to cross
Phil and I were driven to the lake from Bishkek, where we stayed in a sanatorium (did I say sanatorium? – I think insanatorium would be closer) built in the Seventies for the Communist Party big-wigs to get their intestinal irrigation far from prying eyes.
Walking down corridors in the monstrosity of a building was an alarming experience – from the inscrutable medical treatments labelled on the doors, to the bulky female Russian “nurses” who seemed to patrol the hotel in groups of three, looking for victims – er, patients.
The grounds were planted with trees and shrubs, but always in neat rows. Concrete paths snaked through the vegetation, lined with street lamps of such brightness and intensity that night never fell. I think if I were to build a place with less connection to the stupendously beautiful surroundings in which it was situated, this would be more-or-less it. It seemed less like a place of recuperation, and more a place of frustration.
It seemed like a very bleak prospect staying there for more than five minutes – particularly to Phil who dropped his bag in the room when we arrived, and actually ran out of the grounds to see if he could find something to smoke. The two rays of hope were a computer with a reasonably quick connection to the internet, and Khanat, who ran the bar, who turned out to to be a football fanatic with an encyclopedic knowledge of the game.
After a couple of days with our heads stuck firmly up the computer, we learned through Khanat that the staff played football in one of the tennis courts every day at four. Since we were heading back to Bishkek at five the following day, Khanat agreed to organise the staff to play at ten the next morning.
And what an enjoyable game it proved to be…
The Wake lad, about to score
We played for as long as we could, until a militia-type turned up to reclaim the staff into the clutches of the hotel. Phil and I played keep-up for a while afterwards – Phil gloating about the goal he scored with a back-heel in front of a crowded goalmouth. In fact he’s so chuffed with it, that you can see it here…
Written by Christian Wach on Saturday, April 27th, 2002