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Escaping Kyrgyzstan’s ‘OTEL from hell on horseback

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Escaping Kyrgyzstan’s ‘OTEL from hell on horseback

Words and Photos by Jacob Moss

Location: From Kochkor, Kyrgyzstan

I stood before the shackled door below a neon sign reading OTEL. Somebody had stolen the H it seemed.
A feeling of unease had groped me since arriving in Kochkor off that windowless minivan – the kind of unease a traveller feels when they arrive in an unknown place with the night at their back. Their rucksack is heavier; their senses flicker on like street lamps as they feel a vulnerability that can only be shaken by checking into a room, a place to shed their belongings, to gather themselves – a home base. These emotions are familiar to the kind of traveller who doesn’t plan,

“Here, in the fence-less land of nomads, I wanted to see this world from astride a horse.”

yet fumbles; who reads a map, rather than a guidebook or a brochure; who travels in countries that his government recommends only travelling to if absolutely necessary. Travelling is always necessary.
Exercise a high degree of caution in the Republic of Kyrgyz was the advice given by the Australian government’s Smart Traveller website. While such advice would deter many, it only plays into temptation’s hands for a traveller guided by curiosity. It’s like mother saying don’t play with the snakes in the creek across the road.
What if there weren’t any beds around? A prospect I turned over in my head while kicking the dust and shaking the melodramatic padlock on the doors to – what I had been told – was the only hotel in town.

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8 Hours on a Lao Boat to Watch a Woman Pick Her Nose by Jacob Moss

Eight Hours on a Lao Boat to Watch a Woman Pick Her Nose

Words and Photos by Jacob Moss

8 Hours

Location: From Luang Prabang, the Mekong and the Nam Ou river, into the remote village of Nong Khiaw, Laos.

The white, hand-made miniature wooden chair seems as if it has been transplanted from some eleven-year-old girl’s tea house. Lashed with rope to the side of the cardboard boat that’s bobbing on the water as if nodding, confirming your initial thought; for the next eight hours, you should have considered travel insurance and brought an extra fluffy pillow.

“Scenes of village life and of a people and an economy dragged along by agriculture like a plough being dragged by a buffalo remind me of a time I never lived.”

From the ex-colonial town of Luang Prabang, where baguettes and croissants are found alongside noodles and rice in any restaurant’s menu, I board a boat on the Mekong heading north to the Nam Ou river. This trip came recommended as an “insider tip” from a German restaurateur married to a Lao girl: “Don’t take the slow boat along the Mekong into Thailand – that’s what all the tourists do,” he advised. “Go north on the local boat along the Nam Ou river – the scenery is far more spectacular.”
Not a local is to be seen on the suggested boat, which leaves Luang Prabang full of tourists, heading north against the current.
Like most of South East Asia, no matter how hard a person tries to travel independently here, the foreigner is always handicapped, disabled in some way. All roads lead back to the well-oiled tourist trail, whether you like it or not. There are few places left where tourists are yet to plant their flag.
Soured with this reality on this particular day, I sit at the rear of the boat in an attempt to avoid conversation. (read more…)

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