The Problem With WiFi
As the WiFi where Hannah, who I’d met in the Chinese border town of Huo’erguosi, and I stayed in Almaty wasn’t working, we decided to catch the bus into the city. The bus driver was very nice. He helped us work out that we were on the right bus through the use of hand gestures and a translation app. While on the bus, we saw a huge shopping centre called Dostyk Plaza. We figured that’d be the place to get WiFi. We were right and as a bonus, all the staff there spoke English! The menus were even in English, so we knew exactly what we were ordering.
Everything was going along swimmingly until about 1pm when the internet stopped working. As our accommodation also had internet that wasn’t working, we just figured that Almaty had crap internet. We decided to move on and catch a bus to the Almaty 2 train station. There we’d try to sort out some train tickets. It was at that point that I canned my plans to go to the Kazakh capital, Astana. Even the ticketing staff said the tickets were more expensive than normal. Hannah sorted her train ticket and we headed to the nearby Metro.
It seems that the Metro is a rather new addition to the city of Almaty. There are therefore only 9 stops currently in use, starting from the Moscow Station in the city centre and finishing near the Almaty 2 Train Station. It’s lovely, clean and cheap, at only 80 Tenge, or around US$0.20, for a ride
After we purchased our token to get us into the station, we made our way down to the platform. There we were approached by a local who told us that we shouldn’t go outside after 6pm because of a meeting. We were quite confused as to why a meeting would make things dangerous, so when we reached our destination, we tried to ask the staff if anything unsafe was happening.
Unfortunately, the station staff didn’t speak English, but they found a passenger who did. He explained there was going to be protests against the government in the city centre. He didn’t think things would be unsafe. Never the less, he gave us a suggestion for somewhere a little bit out of the city centre where we should have no problems. He confirmed that these protests were also probably the reason that the internet had been unusable for most of the day; the government was blocking all social media, except for Twitter.
Hannah and I hung out until it was time for her to head to the Almaty 1 train station for an overnight train to Shymkent. Shortly after she left I got myself some cheap local food for 1000 Tenge, or US$2.60. It had to be remade 3 times because they kept forgetting parts of my order, but at least I had coloured water to give me something to look at while I was waiting.
Meeting My Host
The internet problems meant I hadn’t been able to reach my prearranged host, but I finally got in contact with her and went to her workplace. It turns out it was her birthday, so I got there just in time for a birthday celebration with her work colleagues.
My host, Aika had to then go back to work, so she organised for one of the staff to take me on a tour of the grounds of her work on a golf cart. The views were delightful, especially the snow capped mountains in the background.
I also made a new friend. He was very inquisitive. He liked eating leaves and sniffing cameras. I called him Mr Deer Deerison and he was much smaller than I expected a deer would be. He looked at me with terribly sad eyes when I left.
Aika had organised an expedition to one of the snow-capped mountains I’d been drooling over since I’d arrived in Almaty. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. The forecast was for heavy rain and storms, making it unsafe to attempt. Instead, we decided to go to a village quite a distance out of town. Then Aika’s car decided that it didn’t want to make the trip when one of the tires went flat. Luckily, Aika had invited some friends along and they were going to meet us near the gate of The First Presidents Park. We just had to get there without a car.
Luckily that is not a huge ask in Almaty. If you just stand on the side of the road with your hand out like you’re hailing a bus, it won’t be long before someone stops to pick you up. These unofficial taxis should cost the same amount as official taxis. They have been known to try to take advantage of tourists by charging them higher prices though. It should never cost more than 1000 Tenge to get anywhere within the city.
Once we got to the park, I noticed more than a few women walking around in wedding dresses. Aika informed me that the Presidential Gate at the park is a popular place for people to get married. While we were at the park, the rain started pelting down. Aika’s friend came around that time, so we didn’t have to spend long in it.
We then drove for over an hour to get to a village near a ski resort. Obviously, the ski resort was closed for the summer. The village was full of fake Yurts. I mean, they looked exactly like Yurts, but they were permanent structures that weren’t made from the normal canvas materials used for Yurts.
Aika’s friend pointed out that there was a traditional Kazakh swing there. Several people could stand on it together and swing from side to side.
The reason we’d come to the village was to ride horses to a nearby hill. Due to the weather and the fact that there was a private function happening in the village, it wasn’t possible to get horses. We instead drove back to a famous Shishlyk place in the city.
Shishlyk is a very popular type of food in Kazakhstan. It generally consists pieces of meat, sometimes with vegetables added, on skewers which are barbecued on an open grill. They are then served on a plate with onion added. The food was awesome, but the wait time wasn’t. We were fast approaching hangry by the time the food got to us.
Hiking the Snowy Peaks of the Tyan Shan Mountains
When the weather cleared, the expedition to the snow-capped mountains was back on! We got a super early start and met some of Aika’s friends at the First President’s Park then made our way to the mountains.
There was a lovely little lake, called Big Almaty Lake on the way up, near the base of the mountains. I was told that it didn’t look too good at that moment because it was only about half full. I still thought it was pretty though.
The mountains are located in the Ile-Alatau National Park, which is quite close to the Kyrgyzstan border. We were scaling Пик Туриста or Tourist’s Peak. Such a lovely sounding name, but it was far from a lovely hike. The beginning of the hike wasn’t too bad as the snow cover was quite thin.
As we got further up the gradient increased very quickly, the snow cover got thicker and we started to encounter huge rocky patches. The sun was also super intense and the snow was so bright in some areas, that even with sunglasses on, I had to close my eyes momentarily. That all made it very tough going.
I probably worked harder for these pictures than I have for any others in my life!
You would think we did all the hard work on the way up right? Nope. It started snowing while we were up the top, which made it all the more treacherous on the way down.
There wasn’t one person in our group that didn’t slip and slide at least 5 times on the way down. I actually ended up sliding down on my butt for a while, because it just seemed easier than trying to walk down.
I’d decided to follow up my cold snowy mountain hike with something that was almost the complete opposite; a walk through a hot canyon. The Charyn Canyon is about a 3-4 hour drive from Almaty, on mostly good roads. There was some absolutely gorgeous mountain scenery on the way too!
When we got to the Charyn Canyon National Park entrance we had to exit our car to pay the entrance fee. The attendant told us it was 750 Tenge or US$2, which is about 250 Tenge more than we thought it would be. Our driver spoke to the attendant and then we didn’t have to pay. Score!
We spent hours in the national park, first walking above the canyon.
Then we made our way down to the canyon floor.
And eventually ended up at the Charyn River.
There was also a place called Eko Park near the river, where people could stay in Yurts or Bungalows.
We spent quite a while cooling down and soaking up the wonders of nature at the river before heading back.
Keep an eye out for my next post on my travels to Kyrgyzstan!