The city I live in is surrounded on almost every side by mountains, which you can see on beautiful clear days from almost anywhere. It only costs about a dollar to hop on a bus and have them take you out to a point from which you can start hiking. Sadly these mountains are turning more and more into a tourist trap all the time. There are big hotels and restaurants, and even gate fees to pay to hike in certain parts.
We were able to talk with a Kazak family a little about their horses (Kazaks love horses, they are a vital part of the culture) and in the end the wife told us the round about path we could walk to avoid paying the entrance fee.
We hiked for about three hours before stopping for a picnic lunch ( huh, I might not be able to dance, but I can participate in some physical activities). As we hiked on we noticed that the rain was moving in and decided it was time that we find ourselves a place to sleep for the night. All through the mountains are Kazak yurts, where you can make a deal with the owner for dinner and a nights accommodation. But you have to be willing to bargain hard.
I don't speak Kazak ( it is linguistically close to Uyghur kind of like Spanish and Italian are fairly similar), I know a few simple rules of how the languages are different so we muddled our way through a conversation. I did pull out all the stops to try to get us a good price. I repeated the fact that I was a student over and over, I even showed off my skinny wrists to prove how little I eat. In the end I got the price down to $4CAD a night per person. I thought this included our dinner, but I was wrong, she ended up charging us an extra $5 for our food ( not to mention the $2 she charged us for coal to heat the fire and keep the yurt warm at night). I felt like we were getting riped off.
The outside of a Kazak yurt (traditional home)
A cute little Kazak baby, dressed really warm against the summer chill ( except for its little bum sticking out of the split pants).
But since returning home my teacher asked how much we spent on our night in the mountains. I have learned over the years to turn the question back on them. If I answer first with how much I spent, my local friends will always tell me I paid way too much. But sometimes if I can get them to estimate the price first they will name something higher than I paid and I end up proving to them that foreigners can do alright at the bargaining game. My teacher thought a night in a yurt plus dinner for three people should run about 300-350 of the local currency. So you can imagine how surprised she was to learn that I had only paid 110 (for a grand total of $6CAD per person).
As you can see it was a beautiful and restful place to get away (and yes mom, these are all file photos from three years ago. We didn't have a camera on us to capture the beauty this time, but I have in the past.)