As I follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great and my Silk Road adventure begins, easily the most famous thing that ever happend to Kazakhstan, less the deadliest mid air collision in aviation history, is the movie Borat. You can’t help but think about Borat when you are walking around Almaty and doing the voice in your head-which I did constantly. However, Almaty is easily the center of the Kazakh universe, it’s economic lungs, and until 1998-it’s capital. Recently renamed from Alma-Ata, Almaty is a modern, European looking city that is rich from oil and the spoils are everywhere. Just riding into town from the airport you pass Porsche dealerships, Mercedes, BMW, etc., which have become a part of mainstream Russian culture with their economic boom of the past few years. Independent and thriving now, Kazakhstan is staking its place in the world and leading Central Asia into the 21st Century.
I didn’t spend a whole lot of time in Almaty as adding a day in Bali took away a day in Almaty but trust me it was worth the trade. I arrived super early in the morning after shockingly sleeping my entire flight from Beijing, I was able to walk around the city and most importantly hit up the best known restaurant in town, Yubileyny. It has these unreal tortilla wrapped doner kebabs. It is open 24 hours a day and Lonely Planet said there were lines all night and I got there at 5am and it was a wait, but well worth it.
After eating, the sun was up and I was able to view a gorgeous modern city with an awesome backdrop of mountains similar to Denver, Colorado in the United States. As I met my driver to take me to Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, the scenery in the Kazakh countryside got even better.
The drive from Almaty to Bishkek is about 3 hours give or take and the mounatins and wide open spaces are amazing. I don’t use that word often to describe anything but it really was. The landscapes are something that I have seen only in Africa. There are just massive expanses of gorgeous open land with a 360 degree view that transfixes you into a gaping stare. The Zailiysky Alatau Mountains shimmer in the morning sun and light up the fields and valleys below. It was really a pleasant ride…that was of course with one notable exception.
About midway through the drive I was staring out the window and my massive and cold Kazakh driver named Sergei was busy plotting how to kill people, when a woman in a dark blue Mercedes flipped her car. She was probably doing about 120kph which is about 75mph and the road was one of those roads with a steep dropoff if you go off the road and thats what she did. It was literally right in front of us in the right hand lane.
We both kind of stared and collectively in our respective languages screamed, “HOLY SHIT!” It was insane but we were going about the same speed and Sergei didn’t even think to stop but continued to drive the same speed while staring back at the accident which really thrilled me, I’ll tell you. Afterwards he motions a drinking motion to his mouth and says vodka, obviously insinuating the she was drunk on vodka and then he laughed…I guess I just don’t get Russian humor.
So basically, the woman must’ve died because of the speed she was going and the crash was spectacular and I don’t mean that in a good way but the car flipped like 6 or 7 times. But I have no idea what happened and I seriously hope she is OK. It was just insane to see one of those up close-it was like a NASCAR crash. Anyway, I’m going to go on the assumption that she is OK so I feel better about Sergei not stopping the car-but I really doubt it.
Changing gears…As we arrived at the Kyrgyz border stop I had to get out for passport and visa formalities and I decided to snap a picture of the Welcome to Kazakhstan sign-just because. Anyway a guard saw me do it and demanded my camera. I wouldn’t give it to him and just kept saying Nyet! (My Russian is stellar let me tell you knowing a few words-although I can read it which is a big help).
It soon became apparent that he was going to look at my camera whether I wanted him to or not so as the other armed guards came in I allowed him to look while I held it. I was forced to erase the pictures I took of the sign. I mean really-is it such a massive Kazakh secret that the sign says Welcome to kazakhstan in Russian-what’s the harm in taking a picture of it. So I took my stamp, said thank you in Russian and as I was leaving snapped another picture of it that they didn’t see. It was a small victory but a win nonetheless!
I am now in Bishkek and will write about this lovely city tomorrow as I am heading out to go hiking in the mountains.
BTW-my blackberry gets no service here in Kyrgyzstan so I don’t have instant access to calls, emails, facebooks, my site, etc. I will try to check again tonight before going to sleep but hopefully it will work tomorrow from Uzbekistan.
ALSO, I just wanted to mention that yesterday my blog was viewed in over 50 countries and has been viewed by people in more than 176 countries in the past few months…not too bad for a little travel blog that doesn’t advertise. Thanks to everyone for reading and your emails-they mean a lot and help make doing this fun and worthwhile.