Wednesday, January 23, 2013

January 22, 2013

Made sure to wake up early so that the kitchen could be cleaned up, all food put away, appliances could be unplugged and the entire flat tidied up before going out to throw the trash away, find an ATM and buy some snacks for the ride to Almaty. I was unsuccessful in finding the ATM and just went ahead and exchange some more money.

Isman, the driver from Lingua, promptly showed up at ten and took me to the bus terminal on the outskirts of the city. Through Zarina, I told him I wanted to book the front two seats of the marshrutka, as Ryan had instructed me, so I could have access to my backpack at all times and not share the seat with anybody else.
We found an empty minibus and settled on a price of 500 soms, or a bit over ten dollars, for each seat.

I paid Isman and stood around for a while waiting for the van to get filled with more passengers. I then remember I had forgotten to buy the 3-1 instant coffee that I’d probably need at the hotel and I walked to the kiosks behind the terminal to find some. Just as I was negotiating with a vendor, an employee from the terminal came running to tell me the van was about to depart.

I was surprised to find out that the driver didn’t need to wait until the van was full, as they had done when we traveled to Issyk-Kul, perhaps because of the higher fare. We reached the border in less than one hour and all passengers had to get out with their luggage and go through immigration and customs while the driver went through a different section. When I came out on the other side, I had no clue where the driver was and started to panic.

Men started to approach me shouting different destinations and wanting to get me into their cars. Fortunately, one of the male passengers recognized me from afar and came to my rescue asking me to follow him to the spot where the rest of the passengers were waiting. The sun hid behind the clouds and started to get really cold as we just stood there waiting for the van to materialize from behind the customs gates. It took over an hour for him to come out and then he stopped to fuel up. I took advantage of that and after dumping my backpack on the front seat, scurried to the public toilet.

I shouldn’t have been in any hurry since the driver then started to negotiate with a couple other passengers and then finally took off. We rode for another two hours and then stopped to have lunch at a Turkish restaurant where I was fleeced once again with the place charging me 660 soms or almost $15.00 for a small serving of some meat and vegetables, a small salad and a piece of cake. I almost choked on my food when I saw the bill, but unable to argue about it, I meekly paid swearing never to set foot in a Turkish place again.

Once we got to Almaty, I had to pay $20.00 to get in a taxi that would take me to the hotel. I once again felt powerless to negotiate or argue about the cost. The burly taxi driver started to smoke the minute we got into his taxi, but I made it clear I was allergic to it and he put it out. It was after four o’clock and traffic was a beast as he tried to maneuver around it.

When I got to the hotel reception, I met Richard, from Dushanbe, Holly and Chris and others just completing their registration. I requested a quiet room at the back of the hotel and then came back down to drink a cup of coffee as no teakettles were allowed in the rooms. My room was monastic affair with barely enough space to turn around. The coffee bar server was not present and just left to find a place to exchange money and buy coffee someplace else.

I found a terrific bakery just around the corner and ordered an espresso. The temperatures were milder than I had expected and so I went for a walk to familiarize myself with the area. There were no supermarkets around, just some restaurants and the bakery. Two convenience stores faced the hotel and went into both of them looking for cold water and beer, but neither offered it. I got the regular stuff and set it outside the window for a couple of hours before drinking it.

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