Over the weekend our class went on an overnight excursion to a small town about six hours outside of Almaty in order to see Lake Kolsai. While there are many lakes closer to Almaty we could have visited, Lake Kolsai is special because it was formed following a landslide which re-directed ice melt and water flow into a small forested area within the mountains. As a result, the remnants of large, dead trees extend out of the water, making the lake very unique.
We began our trip early Friday morning at around 6:30 when we all met up outside our university in order to board a bus. Traveling by bus generally isn’t fun, especially in the summer in Kazakhstan given the intense heat and the fact that most busses lack working air conditioning systems. However, because we left so early and spent a great deal of our trip driving through the mountains, the bus never got too unbearably hot and we were all able to enjoy the scenic drive.
We stayed in a small town of several hundred people that was about 45 minutes or so from the lake. The town was very old but relatively developed and situated in a valley surrounded by mountains. Our group was split into three as we were sent off to different houses in which we’d spend our night. The house in which my group stayed was small and surrounded by a farm and large corrugated metal walls. There was an outhouse in the corner of the yard, which everyone dreaded using, and several smaller structures including a homemade banya, or sauna. The inside of the house was very cozy, as were our living quarters. Five friends and myself all squeezed into one room, each with our own tiny bed. Linens appeared to be homemade and old, with ornate designs on them.
Dinner that night was a great time as we all sat down together around a large rectangular table covered in plates with vegetables, freshly made bread and butter, cheese, and monti. Monti is essentially a meat ravioli without sauce, very delicious because potatoes and spices are generally infused with the meat. Family members who rented out their home were very kind and friendly, and they served us tea while we ate. After dinner they brought out plates with a wide array of small pastries and candy.
The next day we woke early to the sound of barking dogs and construction work. We quickly ate breakfast, which was a dish of some sort of oats, and then set off for the mountains and Lake Kolsai. We were crammed into a small van and bumped along back roads for what seemed like forever. The roads ranged from flat dirt to rocky river beds with slow moving streams. But once we finally reached our destination we realized how worth it the drive had been.
The lake was picturesque and unlike anything I’ve ever seen or will ever probably see again. The water was vibrant and teal, almost to the point of looking tropical. Small streams and rivers flowed into the lake from cliffs covered in large pines. The lake was a graveyard of old trees which had lost their color, leaving behind what appeared to be white columns protruding from the teal water, a truly interesting sight. Some of us swam to the trees, which were no more than twenty meters from the shore. The water was cold though, some of the coldest I’ve ever swam in, and so once we reached the trees we clung to them and attempted to inch ourselves out of the water in order to warm back up before our swim back to shore. A peer tutor who had come along for the journey froze up in the water and was unable to swim, so several friends and I had to quickly jump back in to help pull him to shore where he then laid out on the beach to thaw out.
It’s safe to say that this trip was probably my favorite part of the program thus far. From the conversations and meals to the hikes, every minute was a thrill. This weekend will surely be a time I never forget, and yet another reason as to why I’m so grateful for this opportunity to live and study in Kazakhstan.
By: Steven Berube
Term: Summer 2016