Friday, June 6, 2008

Kyrgyszstan Arrival

We arrived in Bishkek Airport at 4:00 AM. Our plane bounced on the bumpy runway past rows of American airforce cargo planes (Manas airport doubles as a US base). A few minutes later we stumbled, bleary eyed, to the immigration counter. Kyrgysztan is the only central asian country where you can get a visa in the airport and we were hoping things would go smoothly or our whole trip would be shot. It turned out to be no problem. We got a visa form which (a bad quality photocopy in both English and Russian) and filled it out.  We paid our $30.00, stood in a line for a stamp, and we were in the country.

As we exited the arrivals area with Kyrgystan a crowd of Taxi drivers tried to sign us up for overpriced rides to the airport. Luckily we'd been warned by the Lonely Planet about Taxi sharks so we didn't agree to anything. Since it was 5AM and a bit early to check into a hotel we cooled our heels in the airport for a few hours and figured out where we wanted to stay. Then we went to the official taxi office which had a sign for a $13.00 cab ride to the city. We hopped into a BMW and a friendly driver took us the 40km to Bishkek.

When we arrived at our intended guesthouse we had a shock. Not only was it full, but we were told by some other travellers that every other place they had checked was also booked. On top of that we were told that everyone was charging $70.00-$100.00  a night instead of the advertised $30.00-$40.00. The helpful travellers told us that the one possiblity was to pay $20.00 to camp on the lawn of a hotel in our tents. We gave our cabbie the address and off we went to find expensive camping.

After a lengthy negotation in sign language at the hotel we realized that the camping option wasn't going to work either. Now we were starting to get worried. Nobody spoke English and we had no place to stay and we were tired from the ridiculously timed plane ride.  I mean, who schedules a 5 hour flight to land at 4AM?  We figured maybe the tourist office could help.

Luckily our cab driver made some phone calls and next thing we knew Lara was on the phone with a woman who spoke some English and offered to rent something us some mysterious object for about $35.00 a night. We had no idea what or where it was, but we had little choice so we agreed. The woman then mentioned some stuff about 10:00, we we assumed was the checkin time.

We hopped back in the cab, and the driver took us to the outskirts of town to a weird concrete amusement park. This is the sort of crumbling soviet relic that is hard to describe, but it had a neat tower that gave a good view of the nearby mountains. After that the cabbie took us for tea in a nice sitdown place with cushions. After the tea, he took us to his friend's restaurant for breakfast.  We realized that he was just killing time with us until the check-in.

After a wonderful breakfast of noodles with meat we got back into the cab and drove to a decrepit apartment building.  The driver punched an entry code and we walked up a scary stairway to the 4th floor, where a woman came out with a key.  On the 5th floor we were let into an apartment complete with a stove, kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and balcony.  Everything was in pretty bad shape, and the hot water didn't work ( we later found out that the Russians put central hot water into Kyrgyzstan, but did such a bad job that they have to shut it down one month a year for maintenance).  Still, it was a great deal.

We offered to pay the cab driver for his efforts, but he wouldn't accept any money.  (We repayed his hospitality two days later by hiring him for a private ride to the mountains nearby so we could go hiking for the day.)  Overall, it was a pretty exciting and positive first experience in Kyrgyzstan.  We hope the rest of our trip will be this good.

1 comment:

Mark said...

Funny that you mention the hot water issue, because its a problem that faces almost every russian city as well. I was in St. Petersburg last week, and found the same thing out, that one month per year the central hot water of different districts is shut off... quite rediculous. If you combine that with the fact that you can't drink the tap water, I would never consider living in Russia... despite the amazing time I had there.

Mark McElhinney