Almaty, at first, seemed like nothing more than a larger Bishkek. When I got to the bus station on the outskirts of town, it didn’t even feel like I had left Kyrgyzstan. I played my cards right with the taxi drivers outside by saying I only had 500 tenge when they wanted 2000, and managed to get just that to my final destination (go me). It just so happened that the first person I asked was also the same person to finally accept my price about 5 taxi drivers later. Too bad the driver got stopped by the police on the way and had to pay a bribe – aka the money I was about to give him. Yes, that was a bit awkward.
Strange police incident aside, during the ride I began to notice the actual bustlingness of Almaty. A lot of travelers I meet seem to think of Almaty as being a sterile-Dubai-wanna-be city that just leaves your pockets a little lighter, but I was able to see the city from a local perspective instead of just as a tourist. Yes, with a little insight from locals, expats, and other travelers I met during my stay, I was able to experience the excitement a large city in Central Asia has to offer. Unfortunately, I must admit this has since somewhat skewed my perspective of my oh-so-easy-to-live-in and now-seemingly-boring Bishkek.
The plan was to stay for just 5 days and for two reasons: 1) I still had lessons at the London School, and 2) After 5 days you have to register your passport in Kazakhstan. So instead of shelling out extra money, I grabbed a marshrutka on the fifth day in reverse and was Bishkek-bound. At the border, however, I noticed it was taking quite some time for the Kazakh lady to flip through my passport. I began to get antsy as I noticed the other lines of people moving along quite quickly. Then she said it: “Your Kyrgyzstan visa is not valid.”
Oh, gasp! It’s hard to explain the exact feeling that pulsed through my body at that moment because it was a combination of shock that my visa was invalid, and a bit of hilarity because I should have known this was going to happen. See, previously, I caught wind from the office manager at the London School that a single entry visa in Kyrgyzstan is really a double entry, single exit visa. I know, it doesn’t make much sense, but apparently that little stamp I got in my passport when I first arrived in the airport doesn’t really count. Even though Nargiza said it was her job to know this stuff about our visas, I had to investigate to a higher level by talking to the official visa office in Bishkek. They, too, said I could leave and reenter Kyrgyzstan one more time. Ok, problem solved.
Being in Central Asia, you start to learn quickly that you just NEVER know anything as fact about the government. And, oh what a ridiculous fool I looked like when I had to sit in a room full of Kazakh and Kyrgyz border guards trying to explain in broken Russian that I had the right to reenter Kyrgyzstan, even though it clearly appeared that my single-entry visa was good and null by now.
“Back to Almaty, girly,” They said. (Ok, minus the girly part.)
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