On Zoos at Night and Slipping through Mud

Although we meant to go to Bishkek the day after our yurt trip, we decided to extend our trip in Almaty by one day because Slava wanted to see some friends. We also wanted to see Metea, which I thought was a lake but was incorrect.

Wednesday, July 19 – Almaty

We woke up early to head to La Tartine, a local French bakery, for breakfast. I had an almond croissant and orange juice. The croissant wasn’t crispy enough in my opinion. We then headed to Metea, which was the top touristy thing to do in Almaty, according to Google. Metea consisted of 842 steps, leading to what I thought was going to be a lake.

Half the steps were closed due to construction and when we got to the top, there wasn’t a lake. Instead we started walking along the road to look for it. Several miles later, we learned that the stairs actually led to the dam and the ice rink was at the foot of the stairs and closed.

Instead, we headed back to the city on the bus, since taxis were too far away. Since dinner wasn’t until 8 pm, we stopped by for some juice and sandwiches at a local café. Joanne and I also picked us some gummies at the grocery store next door.

Everyone had told us good things about the Almaty Museum near our apartment and so we decided to go there next. They had promised us an English-speaking tour guide but she had decided not to come in that day. The first couple rooms were historical, but the last few were all about Nursultan Nazarbayev, the first President. The info screens were all extremely flattering, very different from the Wikipedia article we pulled up on our phones.

Before dinner, in order to kill some time, all of us, but Slava, headed back to Madlen to order lemonade and sangria and to play crosswords. For dinner, we met with Slava’s friend Olga, who he had also never met before but knew through the Korean Kazakhstani community. She proposed a Georgian restaurant.

It was my first time having Georgian food and I thought it was great. There was this cheese pizza dish without tomato sauce, salads, dumplings, fried chicken, and, of course, tons of lemonade. At the end of dinner, another friend of Olga’s came too. It turns out that Olga’s boyfriend called him when it turned out there wouldn’t be enough cars. I couldn’t believe how hospitable they were despite not knowing us, or even Slava, at all.

We drove up to the amusement park on the mountain where there was a zoo, with around 100 different types of chickens. Despite the fact it was past midnight, there were many small children around. Slava climbed a climbing wall and Joanne and I rode this two person swing, which actually went quite high. Although Olga and her friends offered to take us somewhere else, we didn’t want to impose further and were all tired, so we headed back to pack.

Thursday, July 20

We woke up early the next morning for our many hour trek to Bishkek. The drive to the border took around four hours. In the middle of the third hour, our driver saw another driver whose car had broken down and pulled over to help. It turns out, we would end up towing this second car to Kyrgyzstan after another hour of futile effort.

As we drove south, the temperature also got warmer. There were many flies in our car, which was unfortunate. Luckily, the border crossing didn’t take too long at all—there was only a massive line in the opposite direction—and we were able to make it to our Airbnb by early afternoon.

After dropping off our things and washing up, we headed out to meet with Slava’s other friend from MIT who worked in Kyrgyzstan. He was one of the first engineers at B12, a startup for business consulting based in New York, and his company ran a branch from Bishkek at a coworking space. I’d never been to a coworking space before and it reminded me of a hip café.

We spent awhile speaking with some of the engineers about Kyrgyzstan and what they did before heading off for dinner before the free walking tour Linh booked. Although we were originally planning on going to Chicken Star, the original, we passed by another Korean place, Cooksoo, a block away, and, on a whim, decided to go there instead.

I had teokbokki and some iced tea. After picking up some cash, we tried to find our walking tour but were unsuccessful. Instead we walked around the main park, reading about and imitating statues. We also rented out two bike carts and raced around the park, trying not to run over children.

Finally, we were pretty thirsty and had run out of water so we went to Neman grocery store and bought many liquids, including a massive jug of apple juice, three yogurts, strawberry milk, fermented milk, and water. We then went back to our Airbnb to rehydrate and sleep.

Friday, July 21

We woke up early the next day for a hike to Ala Archa national park with an English-speaking guide that I had booked. The national park was around 40 minutes away from the city, and as we drove, Aigul told us about some of the history and recent political events of the country.

As Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are relatively new countries, it’s hard for me to image what it would be like trying to establish a democracy or undergoing periods of political turmoil or revising the Constitution. Aigul had studied in the US and was very well traveled and we had a lot of fun talking to her.

The plan was to hike to a waterfall and back. All of us weren’t wearing hiking boots and part of the trail was quite steep, so we were all slipping and sliding over the trail. Each of us fell at least once, and, with my sore foot, sometimes I just gave up and slid on my butt down some parts.

On our trek, we met a nice Indian man who told us about how he climbed Kilimanjaro at age 61. I do wish I have that kind of stamina at that age. He advised us to walk slowly and to hydrate often. The waterfall was beautiful and we did the mannequin challenge at the base of it. After we made it down the mountain, we were all pretty tired and dirty.

Once we made it back to our Airbnb, we all showered and consumed all the juice. We then walked to dinner at Bukhara, a local Kyrgyzstani restaurant. We ordered a plate of kebabs and some fried lagman. The meat was really well cooked and tender. We also had some shots of vodka each and so were slightly tipsy on the way back. Since it was my last night and the others were leaving shortly after, we picked up another bottle of vodka to drink and talk. I went to bed around 2 am for my 9:30 am flight the next day.

Saturday, July 22

I woke up at 6 am to take a taxi to the airport. The taxi driver tried so hard to get my Instagram that, while he was using the translator app, he ran into another car in the parking lot. That driver got really angry and started yelling as I paid and made a beeline for the airport. After several hours of sitting and waiting for check in to open, I retrieved my boarding pass and began the forty hour journey to Malaysia.

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