Tuesday, July 22, 2014
Ultimate Frisbee and Long-Distance Bike Riding in Kazakhstan
Check out the Astana Ultimate Frisbee page if you're interested.
The new 2nd grade teacher this year was also my neighbor (lived one floor below me) and a lover of Ultimate Frisbee. She connected with a local Ultimate Frisbee player and together they set up some “pick up games,” – where anyone can come and play. I thought about it for most the year and finally one day in spring decided to come play.
There is not much of an Ultimate Frisbee crowd here in Astana, even less so now that this co-worker has returned to the US. The advantage is that someone like me – with no experience and skills – can easily join in a game; every player is needed! The disadvantage is that sometimes almost no one shows up! (One time, just three of us showed up to play!)
In May a couple from Australia, Jess and Dan, came through our town. (You check check out their web site and blog here.) They were riding their bikes from Creswick, Australia, to London to raise money for a charity called Ultimate Peace, an organization which uses Ultimate Frisbee to teach teamwork and cooperation in different parts of the world, most notably bringing together youth from Israel and Palestine.
Obviously, Jess and Dan did not ride their bikes the whole way; there were some boat, plane, and train rides on their way. They took a train through China and then biked over the border and to Almaty, from where they took a train to Astana to get visas for Iran (which never came through). They spent two weeks in Astana waiting for these visas, and during that time, they taught and played Ultimate Frisbee at the school and after school.
I am so amazed by their journey. Kazakhstan is not known for car-friendly roads, let alone bike-friendly roads. The borders here are known to be tricky for foreigners to cross, and they crossed them via bicycle! They had to wait 5 days at the Kazakh border because it was a national holiday.
When they left Astana, they returned to Almaty and then biked to Kyrgyzstan. The mountains there may be incredibly beautiful, but they're also incredibly high! From their blog, I can tell that it was at times a struggle, but also that the people they met on the way showed typical central Asian hospitality, welcoming them, inviting them in for tea and food, showering them with warmth.
After spending some time with them, my best friend and I are thinking that we need to start planning our own long-distance bike ride. Maybe we should start with a somewhat-friendly 300 kilometer ride to Borovoe (the roads are nice!)