Day 117: Working Girl
Almaty Travel Blog› entry 162 of 260 › view all entries
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Tim & Wim (Belgium), Aselya (Kazakhstan)
A Saturday. A real Saturday. You know, the kind of Saturday that you sleep in, wake up with a slight hangover. Then have some coffee and breakfast. Check your mails. Do laundry. Then do some shopping. A real Saturday. Haven't had one of those in 17 weeks. It's silly how one can miss something so seemingly boring.
I loved being in a proper city again. Well, not so much being in a city, but being in a place with all modern facilities available. There was a supermarket, Yubileyny, right across the road from our apartment which was a great place. It is a huge place, with virtually anything imaginable up for sale. I want one of those at home!
Aselya came to pick us up for lunch and some sightseeing.
My plan had been to do a loop, going up to Pavlodar in the north, then the capital, Astana, then make a beeline for Aralsk on the former shore of the dying Aral sea, then south to Turkistan, Shymkent and back to Almaty.
However, as I was reading up on these places I soon found that this loop would be very difficult to pull off because of the distances. Further more, there was no direct train between Astana and Aralsk (and not many buses either) meaning I'd have to traverse through Almaty again.
That wasn't a big problem, since I would have to come back to Almaty anyway, to pick up my Indian visa. I didn't want to risk leaving it until the last day, so I wanted to be back in Almaty next week Monday or Tuesday to pick up my visa.
The next problem was that I was stuck with two small loops, but neither fitted in the period I had available. So I had no other option but to skip Aralsk. I had read that it is quite difficult to get to the Aral sea anyway (read: very expensive) so I would just have to pass on visiting the greatest environmental disaster in human history.
At the train station the choice was limited even further. All trains to Pavlodar were full and seats on trains to Astana were on short supply. As there were about 25 people queueing up behind me and the lady at the ticket booth threatened to close her booth for lunch, I had to make some very quick decisions. I decided to throw my plans around and travel to Turkistan first. Then come back to Almaty for the weekend and travel to Astana next week. It wasn't ideal, but it was the best I could come up with under pressure. I had never imagined train tickets would be so short in supply. Aselya explained to me that it was the start of the school holidays and many people studying in the cities were going back to their families elsewhere in the country.
With 200 euros worth of train tickets we left the train station again.
Aselya took us to a traditional Kazakh restaurant where we sampled a whole lot of local specialities. Among these was Kazakhstan's national dish: Besbarmak, which literally means 'five fingers' as it was traditionally eaten by hand. It consists of thick, flat noodles topped with horse meat and herbs. Quite nice.
She then took us to Medeu, which lies just outside Almaty. The Zailiysky Alatau mountain range, which marks the border with Kyrgyzstan, lies directly south of Almaty. Medeu is a winter sports resort for which Almaty made an unsuccessful bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Aselya proudly showed us the ice rink, which was built in 1972 in true concrete Soviet style architecture. It's always cute to see how locals can be so proud of something so hideously ugly.
Ugly would not be the word to describe the surrounding valley though, which was quite pretty. Even though the valley was created artificially by draining a lake and relocating a mountain (they did these kind of things in Soviet times, you know).
After our visit to Medeu we went to Kök-Töbe. This is a mountain close to central Almaty and riding the modern cable car up is considered a quintessential Almaty experience.
One of the stranger attractions at Kök-Töbe is a brass monument of the Beatles. President Nazarbaev is quite a Beatles fan and a few years ago he proudly unveiled Central Asia's only Beatles monument. Erm, yeah, why would there be any other Beatles monuments in Central Asia?
We ended the day by having a couple of drinks at one of the hill top lounge bars, while enjoying a stunning sunset.
It was Saturday night and the second-to-last Tim, Wim and I would be together. This called for a celebration. We went to the Soho Club, a bar/restaurant renowned for its good live music. The club draws quite a mixed crowd of locals and expats alike, so it seemed like an excellent location. Aselya had warned us: “beware of the prostitutes” she had said when she heard about our plans. Prostitutes, hmm, not sure what to expect. A Thailand-style go-go bar, or rather a place like the bars in Baku or Ashgabat, where some prostitutes hang out hoping to score a rich foreigner. We figured it would be like the latter and that we had not much to fear.
Food was a bit disappointing. While tasty the portions were minuscule and not particularly good value for the prices they were charging.
The band played had a very nice repertoire. They started with Tom Petty's 'Last night with Mary Jane' and finished with Pink Floyd's 'Shine on you crazy diamond'. In between they played anything from Abba to Metallica to Cher to Brian Ferry. We had a great time and after the appropriate beer consumption we did move to the dance-floor to show the Kazakhs our superior dance moves on songs like 'It's My Life' and 'Ghostbusters'.
As for the prostitutes, well, it was obvious that there were several women present who were on the job and it was interesting to watch them. Not so much for their looks, but more for their tactics. I mean, there were plenty of men around who seemed to be more than willing to part with some cash for a great night out.
Of all the girls we had identified as possible prostitutes, we only saw one of them actually leave with a (way too old) man. Another girl did manage to catch a guy, but three hours later they were still standing in a corner 'talking'. I hope for him he wasn't paying her by the hour.
There was this one girl there who was incredibly cute. I watched her from the safety of the bar for a while and in my imagination the two of us even fell a little bit in love. I did dance with her during one of the songs, but I figured she was on the job as well, so I didn't really pursue after this.
The next day I talked about it with some male friends of Aselya and they told me that perhaps some of the girls were not really professional prostitutes, but were rather looking to hook up with a nice foreigner. DOH!! Maybe that girl had been genuine. Felt kinda stupid now.
But it had been fun observing the whole thing. Even if we didn't manage to understand how the game worked, we had great fun watching all the men desperately trying. We gave them all nicknames, like the Englishman, the idiot, the Russian, the pimp (yes, a few guys were quite obviously not customers).
It had been a terrific night out. This was my first proper night out since, well, since Baku actually. That was more than two months ago!
We stayed until the bar closed and even then a little longer.