KYRGYZSTAN: Hunt With Arpa Marco Polo LTD

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Jun 16, 2013
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Hope to load this report, here goes....

making camp.jpg

DATES OCT 28-NOV 12, 2015


I received my CITES permit for an Argali only 8 days before my departure. Wheels are in motion by this time. There is no turning back. I had planned to forge ahead without it anyway. I made flight arrangements with Safari Gal. No regrets.

I won’t detail the travel. Just a summary. I went coach. Cost of a business class seat would pay for a Limpopo bow hunt. It is not a wise use of funds. Besides, most of travel is waiting. Waiting to board, waiting to disembark and waiting between planes. I doubt that there is anything the flight attendants could do for me that would be worth the additional $5400 of business class. I left in the early morning of October 28th, and completed two connecting flights, then the brutal 11 hour leg from Dulles to Istanbul. Be advised that Turkish Air will not accept a boarding pass from any partner airline. 3 hours to decompress at Ataturk, eat some sticky baklavas and drink coffee from a cup the size of a thimble. Now, l wait in another line to re-board.

HUNT REPORT, ARPA-MARCO POLO, LTD, Kyrgyzstan, Hume Argali hunt Nov, 2015

Medical people call us “Gomers”. I don’t even know what it means exactly, but it sounds right. Kind of like a cross between “gummer” and “old”. Gomers. Old people. They drive too slowly and have food stains on their jump suits. They fall asleep watching re-runs and cheer for the wrong football team. The edgy ones may race yard tractors or buy a Harley, but they do not hunt Marco Polo Sheep. I, however, am waiting in line to board a Turkish Air flight to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. And I am a Gomer. Never accused of being too terribly cerebral, I am off to hunt an Argali… age 67. And to prove that there is no fool like an old fool, I tried it once before 5 years earlier. But I digress.

I arrived at Bishkek on Oct 30 at 330 AM. It was a pleasant surprise from my earlier visit years before. A brief walk on a dark, wet tarmac, a sign with my name, (just like important people), a short bus ride to the VIP terminal, and a handshake from Kairat Akmatbekov. I liked “Kay” immediately. The owner of Arpa-Marco Polo LTD was a man of about 40, honest and unassuming.

We drank coffee and talked while others checked my passport, retrieved my luggage, and brought me my rifle. I was out the door in an hour, $120 lighter, but stress free. 5 years before, in a part of the airport called “not VIP”, I was the last passenger thru customs, did everything myself, and still paid $150 in bribe fees to get my rifle. This was an auspicious start.
We drove thru the dark wet streets to the Onyx Hotel. I had reserved a room off of Booking. Com at Kay’s suggestion. They took me in early, were unconcerned about my rifle, and all the front desk people spoke English. Like Kay’s English; University correct. Don’t try any irony.
I had arranged two days at Onyx to decompress, but Kay asked me to leave a day early. Give it my all, so to speak. We left after one day, after permits and shopping. On the way to Naryn, the coldest city in Kyrgyzstan I am told, I bought rope, hot bread filled with potato, and vodka.
5 hours in a Land Rover brought us to Naryn, and Kay’s mother in law’s house. Naryn is a strange little city, cold, austere and rocky. Suitable only for a mother in law, perhaps. The last stop before the highlands. Here, this beautiful lady was in the process of removing a freshly baked loaf of bread from a hot oven. A single loaf the size of a washtub. She served it along with bright raspberry jam, salty butter and hot tea. I received my final hunt permit in Naryn. Up to this point, nothing could have been improved upon.

After two hours of pleasantries, and late in the day, Kay and I left for base camp, situated on an un-named tributary of the Arpa River about 6 hours distant. This was a 6 hour jaunt in the dark, and on the way we picked up the required military observer. This requirement, to take an observer along to base camp, is probably a good thing in general. Prevents the unethical from shooting a dozen sheep on one license. Kay, being honest, would have functioned the same without him, but he proved no problem. Nikita liked vodka, (that is to say, he was Russian) and I had only bought 4 bottles. But it was fine with me. Nikita stayed in base camp,(his real name cannot be pronounced by anyone but family, and he looked just like Khrushchev, anyway) close to the dung briquette stove, and the hot biscuits he washed down with vodka. He proved to be a pleasant, if well fed, Party Member.

The following day we were miles from base camp. Mercifully, we could no longer hear Nikita’s baritone renditions of “On the Murom Path” or “Hey, Little Apple”, two of Mother Russia’s favorite folk tunes so they say.
Base camp was a small white house, outhouse and two outbuildings. Having arrived after midnight, we made no attempt to rise early. Slept in to the warmth of a dung stove (this area is far above the tree-line, so little or no wood for a fire) and had a good breakfast and lunch. Shot the rifle, which went very well for me. From prone I shot a 3” group at 200M and another 3” group at 300M. Late in the afternoon we took a turbo diesel Jeep and drove far up the river, crossing the braided stream half a dozen times by easing out on the edge ice until it broke, and churning across the black swift middle. At the road’s end, and on the mountains at the opposite side of the valley, we met up with Aman and Ekus, my guides. They had left base camp in the morning and spent the day riding to the jump off point. My cheap altimeter put the base camp at 9884 ft and the trail head, as it were...the place at which we met up and would depart from the next morning, at 11009 ft. It went up from there. Way up.

We moved camp daily on just the three horses, poor little Tyson carrying both me and my camp; glassing every likely spot on the way. On Nov 2nd I saw my first Marco Polo sheep. Five of them on the edge of a deep alluvial ravine. One was a young ram. To the credit of my guides, they did not try to get me to shoot it. We put 7 hours in the saddle the first day. We ate lunch, one of only two times we were to do so, at a washed out bridge by an old road, possibly a vestige of the Russian era. My horse, Tyson, was 8 years old and had been freshly shod with good heel-toe shoes. Fortunately. He had a smooth gait, and as I have owned horses over the last 30 years and have my own tack, I had little trouble with the long daily rides. The shortest day put 5 hours in the saddle, the longest was 10. I am not the man from Snowy River. Maybe you would be better off to know less about a horse… where it should and should not go. I could never have imagined riding into some of the places we rode; slick black rocks throwing sparks from the shoes in the early dark hours. Places beautiful, austere and remote. The adventure factor was quite high, and I enjoyed every day of it.

In all, I saw 31 sheep. One wolf, a few yak, and Ibex. Three of the sheep were rams, and two were shooters. They were alert and highly motivated. I got to within about a kilometer of the closest ram. I fired no shots. Several of the Ibex were toads. The continuous howling wind was likely a factor. I have never seen hunting improve with high wind unless it was for ducks. Because of our lack of success, I stayed an extra day and hunted. A day that I planned to return to Bishkek, clean up, and repack. Because of our lack of success, and the desire of Aman and Ekus to be successful, they pushed us into places that were very difficult to access, and possibly less hunted. They did not accept defeat lightly, and I liked that.
We hiked a moderate amount. I had no trouble with the altitude, was never ill or suffering. Just tired. My altimeter pegged at 14,238. I never felt that my age or condition affected us adversely. I was able to hike wherever they hiked, just a little slower. I probably exercise too hard for a man my age anyway. Perhaps I should start smoking strong Russian cigarettes. It seemed to work for Aman and Ekus. I don’t know what they were expecting, but they were surprised when I cleaned ice balls from the horses shoes, tightened my own cinch or even mounted up by myself in rough terrain. Maybe they were expecting a different Gomer.

In the evening they pitched two mountaineering dome tents. Often after dark, trying to find shelter from the incessant wind. Our bodies held the tents down, there was no driving a stake into the frozen ground or ice. Water was short, and had to be melted. Aman cooked food on a Primus, and Ekus took care of the horses. Each night I had a strong hot cup of coffee, followed by a hot soup dish, cheese, bread, and salami followed by a finishing cup of coffee. Aman would then say “good night”. His only English words. I liked the food. I liked the guides. They were polite, hard working, and took good care of me. No complaints. It can be difficult to go long periods of time without being able to communicate. Divorced people know this. Although Kay, the owner, speaks English, the guides and employees do not. On this solo hunt, one does not sit around the campfire in the evenings discussing politics or football. Ice won’t burn, and my Kyrgi is getting rusty.

When the hunt was over, we came off of the mountains and down to another cabin. It was a steep descent down frozen hillsides. Tyson fell to his side, his only complete fall in ten days. For once I had my heels down in the stirrups and cleared easily. Fearless Aman continued to ride, his horse sliding at times 10 meters before catching its feet. He is fearless, but I can’t help noticing he has no teeth. I have all my teeth. I am not fearless. I walked my horse. It was good to walk. These jarring descents getting to me after ten days in the saddle.

This cabin looked similar to the base camp cabin, but was across a broad valley from our destination. We had moved far down the opposing mountain range. Perhaps 40 miles. It was 16 miles to base the apex of this triangle. There was no electricity or flowing water, but there was a dung stove and a bed. What luxury. I washed with an old sock, and felt blessedly clean, shivering naked beside the dung stove trying to dry. I had saved a small bottle of vodka from the prying eyes of Nikita, and after I was decent, we each took a good pull. It was late, and Aman cooked a good dinner (actually the same dinner as always) while I hung up an LED flashlight so he could see the stove. There was a radio in the cabin, and he contacted base; in the morning, the Jeep would come to get me. Not having to ride the 16 miles back was awesome. Even though I can ride, I was feeling a little like a new bride. We got a good night’s sleep.

In the morning, after coffee, there was a long radio conversation. I understood nothing, but Aman explained to me in Kyrgi. When I blinked a few times without comprehending, Ekus took a shot at it in Russian. I understood two words; Jeep and problem. Problem, Jeep. The Jeep was broken. This resulted in another 8 hours in the saddle. Across the valley, across the river many times, always with a howling wind. Temp hit a high of 15 degrees F, at 2PM, and it was the coldest day yet. Not in absolute temp of course, but with no more hunting and returning for a brutal three day trip home without a Marco Polo, it was hard to generate an internal fire. Even this day beat the hell out of working.

We did eventually get to base camp. And the following day, packed and loaded into a different truck, and on the way out, we passed between the military guard posts at the China-Kyrg. Border. This could very well be the edge of the Earth. Here be dragons. I took a few clandestine photos. Unfortunately some Gomer failed to cancel the “flash” option on the camera. Guards saw this flash, and armed with Kalashnikovs, came and took my camera. They then helped me “adjust” it. Sadly, some photos were lost during this cordial lesson. But they did give it back to me. I smiled and thanked them saying “you two are the ugliest and dumbest bastards I have ever seen, and I hope your dicks fall off”. The fact that I am alive proves that they speak no English.

Arpa-Marco Polo LTD and Kairat “Kay”, delivered everything that they promised. They were well organized and I always felt well taken care of. From landing till departure. It was an awesome adventure, and per dollar spent was an excellent value. I know they expected that I would get a sheep “within 3 or 4 days”. So did I. They are usually successful. I was going to site see, party, maybe drive to Almaty, Kazakhstan when my sheep was in the salt. But the salt remains dry.

I arrived back in Bishkek at 10:44 PM. My flight in the morning required a 5 AM arrival. Kay wanted me to meet the two new Ibex hunters that had arrived and were staying at the same hotel. They were in the lobby when we arrived. After a quick handshake, I took a real shower and we went to a very nice restaurant. These guys were young, avid, and would do great. There are lots of hog Ibex in Kay’s 223 square mile hunt unit. I was too tired and too dehydrated to go to dinner, or to drink vodka, but I did it. We went to Budda-Bah. The huge brass gong and open fires reminded me that this was on the Silk Road of yore. The hostess was a spanker; with a one piece gray dress, slit up the right leg to expose a perfect hip bone. A small, magenta emblem embroidered over her breast. She could do double duty as a sleep-ware model. We were immediately handed off to two waitresses, in a similar state of dress-or undress. They both had excellent bone structure. Both were honeys. I could smell rice curries cooking over fires glowing in background. Seated on the low cushions, I imagined these slim hipped lovelies, with clingy low cut dresses, bending down to pour exotic vodkas into small heavy glasses.

But it was a classic bait and switch. No sooner were we seated, then these two temptresses were replaced by a single waitress. She could do as much work as the two waifs, no doubt. Nor was the total poundage reduced in the least. Her meaty forearms spoke of years of kneading bread and butchering goats. She brought a carafe of Finlandia. I drank one large glass….and I remember nothing more. Nothing until Kay and his brother were helping me pack and shoe-horning me into the VIP terminal at the airport at 5:30 AM. An embarrassing situation saved only by Kay. He helps his hunters from arrival to departure. My thanks.
I made my flight. No problems. I had slept in my clothes. In the airport I looked carefully at my shirt. There were no food stains. I can come back one more time.



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Incredible adventure!!
Bloody awesome hunt report Gomer.

I hope that your curse worked in the end.
One of the best short stories I have read in recent years! Let alone a hunt report! Take some time to rest up, it seems like you deserve it!
Sounds like you had a good time...

Great story...
attempting load photos
ridgeline cropped.jpg
Another foto

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Are you going to go back and give it another go? I've been looking into this hunt for a couple of years, just not sure my sense of adventure is ready yet.
My US Fish and Wildlife Permit to import one Argali doesnt expire until NOv 6, 2016 so I should probably try one last time...........................................................what would you do?...................
My US Fish and Wildlife Permit to import one Argali doesnt expire until NOv 6, 2016 so I should probably try one last time...........................................................what would you do?...................

If the bank account can handle it, I'd suggest going back in September-October 2016! Does the actual import have to occur before Nov 6, or can you harvest an aminal up to that date?
Thanks for the hunt report, it sounded like quite the adventure.
That was an adventure.

Thank you sir!
NOT for the faint hearted.... a great experience and something to be proud of!
Wow! Awesome write-up!
While I know that anyone....anyone under the age of 40 could post all the photos at one fell-swoop........................I can only get one at a time. And I often cant remember what I did, exactly, to get the one to load, but here is attempt at another photo........FWB
An exciting adventure.

Bummer regarding the MP. If you return I wish you the best.

Your writing style is great. Enjoyed the story immensely.
Do you have any other literary works I may read? I hope you get the opportunity to go back and complete the goal of harvesting your sheep, if (and this is the selfish side of me speaking) for no other reason than it will provide us all with another awesome story!

Exceptional write-up and adventure!
What a great report! I could almost taste the vodka, smell the perfume, while tasting the rice and shivering from the cold! Very good job!
:A Clapping::A Coffee::A Big Thanx:
A kindred soul! What a great report. A hunt in Kyrgyzstan is an experience that teaches us a lot. The time with no one else that speaks English is indeed a time for reflection. From one Gomer to another well done Sir!

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