We waved farewell to the “Okay No problem” Lady and headed out towards Almaty. We drove from Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan to Almaty, Kazakhstan. There was one border crossing to deal with today. Getting out of Bishkek easy the border crossing was nuts. People were selling EVERYTHING at this border crossing. They were selling window panes. I am talking huge glass window panes right at the border! What do you need a window pane for when you are crossing from Kyrgyzstan to Kazakhstan!
We used up the last of our som to buy potato filled fried dough and Coke. It was GOOOD! So maybe not all the stalls we selling window panes… Food is good.
When we got past the first of many barriers there was a sea of humanity surging forward, people cutting other people off, Cars pushing through people, families putting their children in front of cars so the cars wouldn’t move. I am talking a serious SEA OF HUMANITY!
The huge blob of a pedestrians started to flow over the line into the main border crossing area. Soldiers had to come out and make a human chain to keep people from pushing through the gates. Even still people tried to push past the gate-o-human-soldiers. We still weren’t sure why people were so desperate to get into Kazakhstan. We waited until the soldiers waved us through and watched out for people throwing themselves in front of the car.
When we got under the first main building, Andrea had to get out and give the passports to the Big Hat guy waiting for passports. So we gave him the passports and Big hat guy took passports and walked away! Andrea chased after him through the exit door and almost got trampled because Big hat guy walked into an exit door and trying to follow was not easy. Finally Andrea followed Big Hat guy into a room where they were stamping passports. They looked at me curiously when they saw that I was collecting two passports but I said “Driver” and pointed to Bruce’s passport and then there was no problem. We were stamped out of Kyrgyzstan and on to our double entry into Kazakhstan!
The sea of people for Kazakhstan was also crazy – soldiers linked arms to stop the mass of humanity pouring over the border.
We were immediately directed to overflow parking. This is not good. You never want to be in the overflow at a border… people have been lost for years here. We were asked to shut the bus off… we didn’t… since we didn’t want to spend another night at a border. We locked the car and set off to do the litany of paperwork than awaited us. We were shuffled through a couple of different lines but finally made it back to bus.
Then we were escorted through the rest of our border proceedings by a border guard (very army) who really didn’t want to deal with us messing up his flow. He turned out to be very nice and put all of our paperwork ahead of every line and got us out of the border in minutes. Thanks nameless border guard… who is probably calling us numpties in Kazakh right about now…
We had maps to and for Almaty but they did not jive with the lonely planet maps… we need to talk to Lonely planet Central Asia because obviously people use it for the Mongol rally but it is not set up well for driving at all like it doesn’t even tell you where the main highway comes in to the city!!
Had no issues getting to Almaty, but the city itself is an absolute zoo to drive in, perhaps even worse than Bishkek. Traffic comes from all directions and will stop, swerve or change lanes without warning.
Andrea finally found a street sign that was very close to where we needed to be and then we went around the one way blocks a couple of times trying to find our hotel.
We are staying in another Soviet hold over. This time complete with floor mother and elevators that only go up to the third floor (we are on the fifth). Also the fire stairs at the ends of the corridors are locked up, so you have to go to the central stair case (past the floor mother)…..breaks every fire code that I know…..at least they didn’t keep our passports…only made a copy of them.
There is another Mongol Rally team staying here, comprising of Farnell & Lane-Godfrey, so we left them a note on their windshield. We also managed to get their room number from reception, but no answer – probably at dinner already.
We took our night’s stuff up to the room. The room straight from the 1960’s from the Bakelite telephone to the smokey mirror on the wall… The works…..hasn’t been refurbished since it was built. We wandered around looking for some dinner…Downtown Almaty appears to be a jungle of commie blocks., big cement buildings with no style and a whole lot of gray! Although one had a rainbow painted on it.
We found a great Korean place at the end of commie-block row. We had fabulous seafood soup and rice and they had all the little accoutrements as well! It was very nice.
So Almaty was a bust… not really the happening place we were told it was going to be. Maybe tomorrow will be better.