Recently we went on a weekend-long excursion into the Kazakh countryside, staying in guesthouses in the small village of Saty while doing some incredible sight-seeing in the region. I learned a lot by getting out of the big city for the first time. Obviously, there are evident cultural differences in Almaty compared to life in cities back home, but still, it is in many ways like any worldly, modern city anywhere in the world. The opportunity to experience village life made a lot of the cultural differences more clear, as well as showing another way of life within this massive, not-easily-generalizable country.
Our hosts were a family of a mom, a dad, and a teenaged son and daughter. They had super comfortable accommodations for us on their small, cozy farm – since Saty is fairly close to many tourist attractions, renting out beds is a common source of supplemental income in the village. They cooked us delicious meals in endless quantities, hitting all the Kazakh classics: manti, plov, and laghman. Their work ethic was admirable, with the entire family up before dawn to start the farm work. One afternoon, I enjoyed a demonstration of milking horses. In place of showers, they had a sauna, which was a refreshing way to clean up after long days out and about.
Even though Saty was just our home base for getting to the real attractions close-by, I would say that the village itself was the prettiest sight of the entire trip. One morning, a friend and I got up early and climbed the grassy hill that looks out over the town, and the views did not disappoint. Plus, it was insanely cool to see how sheep and cows just wandered the streets of their own accord and found their way back to their houses, where they would just wait outside the gate until their owners let them in. Early in the morning, shepherds would herd their massive flocks out to the hills to graze.
The first day, we visited the Charyn Canyon, often described as the little brother of the Grand Canyon. Having never been to the Grand Canyon, I was very impressed. Our tour guide kept pointing out rock formations that allegedly looked like animals, which was amusing.
The next day we visited the Kolsai lakes, which were a beautiful deep green and surrounded by lush woods. From the first lake to the second was a very long, often steep hike, but it was definitely worth it. Upon reaching the destination, a border guard appeared out of the woods and checked everyone’s passports, since we were quite close to the border with Kyrgyzstan. Just as we were about to head back down, we were hit with a massive rain storm, making the descent incredibly muddy and treacherous, but luckily, we all made it back in one piece.
On the final day, we took some off-road cars down a rugged path through the woods – quite a wild ride. After a quick 30-minute hike, we arrived at another beautiful lake, Kaindy, where we took pictures, hung out in the sun, and for the more adventurous of the group, swam. I was exhausted by the time we boarded the bus to go back home and slept soundly almost the whole way. This was definitely the most unforgettable weekend of my time here so far.
By: Jesse Hileman
Term: Summer 2018