Sakura Guesthouse was a lovely little family-owned establishment in Bishkek, run by a very pleasant Japanese couple. A popular destination, it had evidently been doing good business in recent times. There was a band-new accommodation block, the upper floors still being painted and decorated at the time of our visits. The reality was far-removed from the grungy description given in the Lonely Planet, of two small dorms and a pit toilet.
Sakura had a lot in common with the song Hotel California
You can check in any time you like / But you can never leave
in that many of the residents of our humble abode had been stuck there for quite some time. Several were present for both of our periods of stay. Nearly everyone, it seemed, was having visa issues of some sort or other.
Jim, an English motorcyclist/veteran guest, described Bishkek as the bureaucratic purgatory of Central Asia. When we met him, he’d been hanging around the city for almost two weeks, shuttling back and forth between various consulates, trying to obtain several of the mythical pieces of paper we like to call Tourist Visas. These were harder to find than hens’ teeth, and less seen than the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Still, he took it all in good humour. At lunch one day, we were commenting on the delicious smells of lunch wafting from the little kitchen area.
“Hmmph,” he snorted. “The only things I smell are the faint haze of cigarette smoke – Embassy, appropriately enough – and the stale odour of despair.”
We were rather fortunate in the company we kept. During our first visit, Sakura had taken on the appearance of a refugee camp for wayward cyclists; such were the numbers in residence. There were seven bikes in the garage at one point, belonging to a German, two Spaniards, one Englishman, one Japanese, and two of us (poor Katie still being stuck 20km across the border at the time). Some were going west; others east. It made for unmissable opportunity to gain valuable travel tips about the road ahead. Who needs the Lonely Planet when you can have first-hand, up-to-the-minute info straight from the horse’s mouth?