Undaunted by this
introduction, the Ardent Birders scramble down to the river. By the time we are
sitting down to a lavish lunch set out on Oriental carpets under the trees,
they are babbling happily about their sightings, which included a rare
white-capped water redstart. High above us, soaring on the mountain updrafts, a
pair of vultures—one black, the other a griffon—wait their turn at our luncheon
After lunch one
day Buffalo Bill is holding sick call, dispensing pills from his dwindling
supply. Most of his patients are suffering from Bukhara tummy, or what we had
begun to call Trotsky's Revenge.
smiles Buffalo Bill, dropping a number of pills into the hand of one of the
Maiden Ladies. "Take these, my dear. You've got the Trotskies."
In Alma-Ata there
is a family of bats in one of the hotel rooms. But once they have been evicted,
things go reasonably well. We see the eclipse of the sun and ogle the Pallas'
sea eagle. We see a magnificently mounted Kazakh folk opera and the Red Baron
locates a large colony of Volga Germans. Only the Peerless Leader is
All during the
trip he has been promising us "a real field trip" to wind up the tour.
Army trucks with four-wheel drive are to take us high into the Tien Shan
mountains. "You'll see Alpine meadows, snowcapped peaks. The works. The
roads are a little bit hairy. But it's worth it, because of the birding—hawks,
eagles, maybe a lammergeier."
When Sergei, our
local guide, arrives, it develops that, unfortunately, there are no army
trucks. We'll have to content ourselves with a trip into the foothills by
is very much upset. "I'll never bring a group of bird watchers to the
Soviet Union again," he threatens.
Sergei shrugs his
"If you want
our tourist dollars, you have to make concessions."
examines his fingernails. "Concessions are made in Moscow. Today is Sunday.
The office in Moscow is closed. There will be no concessions." He