Lost luggage and secret maps

In 1997 I undertook an expedition to Kyrgyzstan with friend and colleague Peter Savill, to collect walnut seeds from the naturally occurring walnut-fruit forests. Stranded in the capital city Bishkek for three days, following the loss of our luggage by the airline somewhere en route in Kazakstan, a frustrating time was spent waiting.  We also grappled with the smothering bureaucracy, arranging permissions for the trip to the south of the country where hundreds of thousands of hectares of natural walnut-fruit forests awaited our scientific expedition.

Walnut journal entry – Monday 22nd September 1997

Kyrgyz map
Part of the map of southern Kyrgyzstan with the "Secret" stamp top right

Today we organised our visa extensions, and hopefully permission from the Environment Agency, to enter the Sary-Chelek Biosphere Reserve.  The other success was the purchase of some very useful 1:500,000 scale maps.  To buy these we were led to an archetypal soviet-style building, where we entered and took a rickety elevator to a top floor, and then guided along a long and deserted corridor with mysterious numbers on the doors, finally knocking on one of them.  Inside I felt as if we were spies researching the downfall of the Government as we asked for maps of some southern regions.  It was a very strange experience.  I guess that five years ago it all would have been out-of-bounds and none of this would have been possible.

TODAY WE RETRIEVED OUR BAGS – CLEAN SOCKS … !

Gabriel Hemery

Gabriel's walnut journal
Read more from my Kyrgyzstan walnut journal

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