A flying visit
Shymkent Travel Blog› entry 335 of 658 › view all entries
People who contributed to, and improved my trip: Julia (Russia), Hannes (Sweden)
There were 7 hours to kill until our train left for Almaty, so we dragged our bags into the centre of town. After wandering around for a little while, we found Istanbul Turkish cafe that served tasty cheap kebabs and even had Wi-Fi. I enjoyed the food, but as usual, the Wi-Fi was bloody useless, so after the food was finished, we moved into an internet cafe next door. This place had a decent connection for only 100 Tenge ($0.80) per hour, which by Kazakhstan prices is remarkably cheap.
It was approaching night time when we left, so we wandered around trying to find a cheap eatery.
There wasn't much choice on the menu in the cafe where we were sat, so it was decided to chance it and find another place to have a late Dinner. It ended up taking us 30 minutes to find somewhere else, but at least the Beef Stroganoff and Dumplings were good. The train station was 20 minutes from the cafe, so we caught a minivan there and not for the first time in recent days, got asked if we were French cyclists.
As we waited for the train on the platform, a Kazakh family approached us to ask where carriage 8 would be. They were soon chatting away and fascinated by us, trying to find out what we were doing there. Within 15 minutes, they were telling us to miss the train and go and stay with them in Shymkent. They would butcher a sheep and we would eat countless shashlik and drink beer for days on end! It was a tempting offer, but we really had to be making a move, as we had plenty of things to deal with in Almaty. They gave us their cell phone number in case we changed our minds, or maybe next time we were in the area we could pop in!
The train departed at 22.40 and it was a sweat box, so Julia and I decided to sit in a small area at the end of a carriage next to the toilet. There was an open window, letting in a pleasant breeze and a closed wooden bin where we could sit and drink another beer. 10 minutes after departing, a Kazakh policeman walked through the train and said we couldn't drink in the area, but then realised we were foreigners, so asked for our documents.
At the end of the carriage is a room for the train attendants and we were led here and sat down. Julia began to explain that my passport was at the Kyrgyzstan Embassy, but i had photocopied documents and also a letter from the Embassy, which backed up my story. The policeman took these and was immediately on our backs, saying they were not in order. The fools at the Kyrgyzstan Embassy hadn't stamped my papers and they had given me a photocopied sheet! On top of this, he said my photocopied passport was not stamped to authenticate it.
If he had asked, he would have also found that we could not prove where we had been for the last 4 days, as we had not stayed in a hotel or used transport where we received a ticket to prove entering and leaving a city. You need to be registered every 3 days, if you can't prove that you have been in any place for less time than this. Thankfully he said he would let me off with a warning, so i didn't have to bribe him! I think this was partly due to the carriage attendants been stood around and it felt like they were backing us up.
Quite relieved i felt like i really needed my beer back, so went and sat back in the area we had been in before and carried on drinking! Soon afterwards a woman called Nadia came and sat with us and began chatting. She was with her 4 young children on the train, heading to Almaty to work for the summer, as this paid far better than staying in her small village. She was really inquisitive as to why i was in the country and we chatted for quite some time with her.
A little bit later Oktyabr, one of the carriage attendants, came and joined us. His name means October in English and he was named after the October Revolution, whilst Nadia's name in Russian means Hope. I liked both of them a lot and Oktyabr told us some interesting things about how it felt to be a Kazakh when the Soviet Union collapsed. At first the country struggled with the thought of independence, but soon began to flourish. After seeing what has happened to groups such as the Chechen's, who didn't get independence, he felt lucky that they got theirs so easily and without bloodshed. He also understood why the Russian government couldn't simply just grant independence to anyone, as this would dilute their central power and give cause for other groups to break away. Noticing everything isn't always black and white takes some brains, which he clearly had plenty of. He seemed an incredibly smart guy and as it turned out, he had quit a job as a teacher, as train attendants get paid more in Kazakhstan! Ludicrous really. It was nearly 02.00 before we finally got to sleep.
It was a pretty restless night due to the heat and the whole carriage was a stinky mess by the time i woke up at 11.00. Julia and I went and sat back in the end section of the carriage and watched the snow capped mountains begin to appear, as we made our way back into Almaty. Leaving the train we said goodbye to Nadia and Oktyabr, 2 more people who had helped in raising my liking of the Kazakh people. The country and people were nothing like i had expected, both were far exceeding my expectations.