Another close shave!!
Bishkek Travel Blog› entry 344 of 658 › view all entries
People i met here who contributed to and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Clemmens (France)
A new country day always brings excitement and fear for me. I have encountered quite a few horrific border crossings during my time travelling and have come to expect the worst. Children with guns, crooked officials and crow bar wielding taxi drivers have been some of those 'highlights'. Thankfully this crossing was far more pleasant and after getting stamped out of Kazakhstan, it was just a minute walk to the Kyrgyzstan border post. Getting stamped in here was slightly more of a hassle, as their stamp was low on ink, so its hard to actually see that i received a stamp at all. There wasn't really anything that could be done, so i accepted the hand that was dealt and boarded the minivan for the final few kilometres to the capital of Bishkek.
Entering into the outskirts of the city, my first impressions were that it looked just the same as Kazakh cities, which wasn't really too much of a surprise. Tree lined streets contained a mixture of ugly high rise Soviet blocks and slightly less overwhelming rustic structures. The main bus terminal is located in the North West of town and this is the location for our first little ordeal within the country.
So often has it proved to be the case that there are never any ATM's available when entering a country, so it is always necessary to carry some exchangeable currency. We were armed with some US Dollars and Russian Rubles, but found the exchange counter was closed. Julia walked to the upper floor of the terminal, where we were told there was another shop.
Having just received the new Lousy Planet from back home, we now had the advantage of having some more realistic pricing for the area and also the up to date phone numbers of businesses, which would come in use. Therefore a phone card was purchased and Julia phoned around the hotels in the city and we came up trumps with the Southern Guest House, where 130som ($3.60) got a dorm bed. Its location in the South of the city maybe wasn't ideal, but it was by far and away the cheapest option.
It was already 18.00 but the sun was still incredibly hot, as there wasn't a cloud in the sky. We tried in vain for nearly an hour to catch the illusive minivan 132, before eventually deciding to just catch a bus into the centre and change. We dragged our sun burnt limbs (how crazy to get sun burnt that late in the day!) aboard a bus running to the TSUM department store, where we made use of an ATM, which usefully dispensed both Som and US Dollars.
Knowing the location of the Guest House was in the outskirts, we didn't know what facilities would be in the area, so figured it would be wise to get some food whilst we were in the centre. Small fast food outlets were serving up tasty Kebab Burgers for 35som ($1), which was half the price of Kazakhstan, so i did the only sensible thing and ate twice the amount! Making a move back to Sovietskaya, the main North - South street, we got our first sighting of a Kyrgyz policeman and did the only sensible thing â�� changed direction and kept well clear.
Happily we made it down to South Guest House in one piece and with all our money. It took a couple of minutes to find the right flat, because there are no signs. The reason behind this is that its not really a hotel, but a house that lets foreigners stay. The owner Nurdan turned his abode into a crash pad a few years back and has been receiving a constant flow of foreigners ever since. As he doesn't have to pay any taxes, or more importantly bribes to the police, it allows him to keep a low price. Luckily we got the last 2 beds, the others been predominantly taken by Japanese.
The first sign of another European came in the form of a French guy called Clemmens, who sat down to chat with us and give us a low down on the city, and Central Asia in general.
Back at the hostel a Spanish and Belgian guy had turned up and we all sat around in the communal dining/living room watching the Euro 2008 football games. Tonights matches were in Group C, which had been branded the 'Group of Death', due to the four fantastic teams that were placed in it. First up was Romania versus Italy, which ended in an entertaining 1-1 draw and this was followed by Holland thrashing France 4-1, much to Clemmens dismay.
The following day we had a much deserved lie in, as we'd done a lot of traveling and had a lot of early starts over the last week, so it was nearly 13.00 before i finally dragged my arse into the bathroom. Kyrgyzstan, like Russia, has one month a year where the authorities turn off all hot water, to run maintenance on the pipes, and typically we'd arrived during this period. Nurdan had a decent alternative though, as we could heat up a huge bowl of water in the kitchen, mix it with cold tap water and have a scoop shower in his bath tub. It was actually pretty good and far better than nothing at all.
Our plan for the day was to start walking towards the centre, located about 6km to the North and stop on the way for lunch.
It took a couple of hours, walking at a slow pace, to reach the centre and we stopped along the way to sample the local samosas, ice cream and also try a burger that was designed like a Big Mac. I also decided it was time to get a hair cut and asked for a grade 3, which the woman decided meant a skin head! I can't say i was surprised that this happened, as every hairdresser i seem to visit has no concept of how to cut hair.
It was once again a scorching day, so to take some respite from the sizzling sun, we went into an internet cafe. Re-emerging an hour later, the sun hadn't seemed to ease up, and i began to wonder what Ashgabat in August would be like - i read +50, smokin'!
Bishkek doesn't really have much to see in the form of tourist attractions, so we planned a route on the map and set off to check them out. Our 90 minute long journey took us past the Statue to Martyrs of the Revolution, Ala-Too Square, Erkindik (Freedom) Statue, The State Historical Museum, where a changing of the guards was taking place and The White House, which had some pretty fountains outside that were creating a rainbow.
Heading North and then East from here, we passed the Palace of Sport, Spartak Stadium and then wondered through a dilapidated Panfilov Park, until we reached the Parliament Buildings, Lenin Statue, Eternal Flame and State Opera and Ballet Theatre. The day was drawing to a close and finally cooling down a bit. Both of us were therefore pretty exhausted, so we opted to catch a minivan home.
Our evening was spent hanging around the hostel, drinking beers and cooking food. A few of the Japanese guys joined us to watch the football in the evening, as Spain beat Sweden 2-1 and then Russia took on reigning European Champions Greece. A defeat for either side would realistically mean elimination, so it was a relief to see Russia run out 1-0 winners. As England didn't qualify for the tournament, its nice to at least have another team to cheer on!
We got up at 11.
As is was a Sunday, we still couldn't set about getting my Tajikistan visa, so decided to go and use the internet. We had seen many shops on Sovietskaya the previous day, so the obvious solution was just to walk to the nearest one. It only took a few minutes to reach the first cafe, but they were not only charging by the hour, but also by the megabyte.
The next 2 hours were spent walking in and out of internet cafes, as they all had this stupid system. Eventually we ended up in the centre, back at the place where we had been the previous day! I was still keen to upload photos to my blog, but the connection was not fast enough, so i settled for uploading the blogs from my laptop.
After some Dinner, we went to check out a couple of other internet cafes in the centre, to see if we could find a quicker connection, and obviously one without the megabyte charges. We soon came across one that only charged 20Som ($0.55) an hour, had no megabyte charge and was very fast.
My night was once again occupied with the football, as Turkey made an astonishing comeback from 2-0 down to end up winning 3-2 against the Czech Republic. There was only myself and one Japanese guy who stayed up to watch this, as it didn't finish until nearly 03.
A visit to the Tajikistan Embassy was first on the agenda, for what was scheduled to be a busy bureaucratic Monday. It is often debatable as to what is required to obtain Central Asian visas, so we decided to go there and find out first hand, before seriously setting out to acquire it. A very helpful and friendly receptionist told us that as long as i wrote a three sentence letter saying why and when i wanted to visit the country, i needn't get a letter of invitation. This was fantastic news as it saved $30 and a week in time. On top of this, they would also issue Julia and I with GBAO permits (required to travel the Pamir Highway) for free and this would save us $50 and a lot of hassle.
We went off to the photo shop, got some pictures taken and passport photocopies and returned to the Embassy half an hour later.
Been British, i do not need to register in Kyrgyzstan, but Julia had been told by Nurdan and her Russian backpacker website that although she gets a free visa for the country, she would need to register. To do this, you need a hotel receipt, but as we weren't staying in a real hotel, we couldn't get one. Therefore we went to the cheapest hotel listed and asked them for a fake receipt, which they sold to us for 150Som ($4.15). After lunch, we took this to the OVIR registration office, only to be told that Russians travelling on their domestic passports need to register, whereas those on international passports, like Julia, don't.
From OVIR we walked to the nearby Victory Park for a look at the ugly World War 2 Monument, before heading along Jibek Joly (translates to Silk Road) in search of a Russian Orthodox Church. It was worth the effort, as it was a beautiful old structure, with onion domed roofs that were adorned with crosses. I hadn't been feeling too well for the last couple of days, as i was suffering with a mild flu, so we went home after the Church and relaxed there. I wasn't even able to stay up for the football, which showed how sick i was!
The plan had been to leave Bishkek on Tuesday and head into the mountains for a couple of days, but i still wasn't feeling up to much when i awoke.
On our last full day in Bishkek, i was still not feeling too great, so Julia went out and bought some food to cook for lunch. Ideally i would have liked to spend the day in bed, but we had things that needed to be done, so once we had eaten our salad, we caught a minivan to the Tajikistan Embassy.
We had timed our visit so as not to clash with their lunch break, but this proved fruitless, as they had taken the afternoon off to go and have a party with other Tajikistan officials, to introduce the new secretary to each of them. Thankfully the security guard said that they were expected back at 17.00, which just gave us enough time to pop into town to post some belongings home. We returned to the Embassy at 17.15 and collected my passport, complete with visa and GBAO registration. It took a further 30 minutes for them to issue Julia with her GBAO permit and after this we returned to the centre to have Dinner and use the internet.
As i had eventually found a computer that would run Java, i spent the evening uploading photos to travbuddy and by the time we left at 23.00, there were no longer any minivans running, so we had to walk home, which took an hour. On route we picked up a couple of beers, which went down well as we stayed up to watch Russia eliminate Sweden from Euro 2008, by defeating them 2-0.
All that was left for us to do on Thursday morning was pack our bags, say goodbye to Nurdan and finally get the hell out of the city. Its strange how every time we go to a capital and expect to spend only a couple of days, we somehow get stuck spending a week! On the plus side, we'd had a decent place to stay, football on TV every night and i had got my Tajikistan visa.