Article written by Martina on 2017-02-01
"Kazakhstan - country where airport runways are made of interlocking paving (at least you feel that way), where taxi drivers don't mind that they are driving on flat tyre, where policemen wear satellite dishes instead of caps, where all women look like top models and where I feel lost." My Facebook status from time when I stayed in Almaty, Kazakhstan, pretty much says it all. I'm from Slovakia, so I thought I knew what to expect. I couldn't be more wrong. I must say, the way of traveling or commuting in Kazakhstan left the biggest impression on me.
I think I didn't see a regular taxi during my stay in Almaty. Everytime we asked receptionist at the hotel to call the taxi, she used some magic mobile app, probably kazakh version of Uber and somebody showed up. First driver was driving Lada (if you are googling it, it's the most edgy car you can find in search results) which has flat tire on the rear of the car. This fact didn't seem to be a problem and he was probably the master of balancing, because he instructed me to sit on the side where the flat tyre was and my colleague was sitted to front, which was quite logical decision, as he weighed almost 150 kg. We needed to pass two kilometers and we made it! The second one had normal car with all four tires inflated sufficiently, which was fine, but I got pretty rough times during this ride. I needed him to drive me to the airport. From the beginning it looked fine, we were on highway and also the direction was correct, according to the labels, but he suddenly turned to very narrow street with no street lamps and we found ourselves on completely dark street where the road was made from concrete panels (at least I felt that way). I remember making up several ways how to defend myself using just the things I got in my purse when suddenly we got back to street and I saw the airport. You cannot imagine the relief.
Usual way how to overcome a distance in Kazakhstan is to stop the normal car and negotiate with the driver if he would give you a ride to your destination and for what price it would be. I took this "citizen taxi" twice and it was very funny because the driver was always trying to speak with me and my colleague and he didn't even have a correct questions, because he was inquiring about our relationship or about my colleague's weight. I was quite amused by my colleagues Russian and also with car decorations. One car had the whole interior made of crocheted blankets. You cannot imagine the hours spent with crocheting.
I cannot forget to mention public transport in Almaty. There were regular buses and something like buses. In normal buses you were supposed to buy a ticket in a special device which actually consisted of three sub-devices: one for choosing a type of ticket, second one for returning the change and the third for printing the ticket itself. Tickets there were awesome with dimensions similar to postage stamp, very cute. In the other type of buses, but let's say that they were more vans than buses, the anarchy ruled. At least that was my feeling, because I was not able to guess the principles of "the game." I took this kind of bus twice. First time I had some amount of change prepared but I was not able to guess to whom I should give it to buy a privilege to travel. After a minute of confused staring around the vehicle, some man came to me, gave me few coins and pointed on the guy standing near the driver. The one smoking the cigarette, in the bus. So I gave him the money and completely embarrassed found a place to sit for the rest of the ride. For the second time, there was not even a person who should collect the fare, so I forced the driver to take the money from me. After few stops a woman got in and started to collect the fare in a very random way. She was very caring I must say, because when she heard that I want to get off on some specific street and that was not the direction bus was going, she asked the driver to slow down and I was able to jump out of the van. Literally.
Later I found out that Almaty has also a metro line. Yes, just one. With only seven stops. One would ask if it was worth the effort. If you were there, let me know.