09 Sep, 2009
Posted by: Scott In: The Rally
The next day we packed up our stuff and walked to the nearest bus stop to board a shuttle to the long distance bus station. Arriving there it was a bit difficult to find out where exactly you purchase tickets to get to Bishkek–the only window that was open was exclusively for destinations within Kazakhstan. I was wondering outside looking lost when a man approached me and asked if I was going to Bishkek. I replied that I was and asked how much he would charge to take us there. He said he’d take us for 2,000 tenge each (about $13)–not bad considering it was a four hour journey! We were still wary of taxi drivers and I triple-confirmed that the price was actually 2,000 tenge per person for the entire trip–not 2,000 dollars, not 2,000 per kilometer, etc. etc. Seemed legit. Satisfied, we accepted and threw our stuff in his trunk. Getting into his car he explained that we could either pay 8,000 tenge to book the car for ourselves or he could go and try another two passengers. It would be a tight fit, but we told him to find some more passengers so that we could save some cash. He returned a bit later with a cute girl, about our age, who got in the back seat and greeted us in English. The driver said she had agreed to pay a bit more if we would as well so that we wouldn’t have to cram another person in the middle seat. I knew it would get more expensive! But it wasn’t much, so we paid 1,000 extra per person and got on the road.
Turns out that our fellow passenger, Aika, was working at a bank in Almaty. She had studied in Kyrgyzstan for a few years and returned frequently to meet up with friends there. She was planning on pursuing an MBA in London the following year. She along with our driver, Alic, made excellent traveling companions and we ended up conversing the entire way. The Kazakhstan/Kyrgyzstan border was a breeze and we got into Bishkek a bit after 5:00PM. We stopped for a minute and Aika and Alic kindly bought us a cup of khlep, a drink made out of fermented plants that tastes like salty/sour non-alcoholic beer. I think it’s a taste you need time to get accustomed to. We dropped Aika off at her destination and said our goodbyes before grabbing a dinner of laghman (spicy noodles) and plov (Central Asian fried rice) along with Alic at a local cafe. After that he dropped us off at the hotel we had picked, which was out of double rooms due to the upcoming independence day events. We agreed to pay a bit more for a three-person room and threw our things down before heading out to look for some fun. It was Saturday night during an extended weekend so there had to be something going on. We had heard interesting things from fellow travelers about a bar called Golden Bull and set off to find it. It turned out to be harder than we thought as the entrance was a bit tucked away off of the main street. We asked a nearby movie theater employee who directed us to the spot. Paying our 400 som ($8 or so) cover we headed in to the cub to find it was pretty dead. There were a few girls on the dance floor and some guys sitting round drinking and watching them. We grabbed a drink, sat down, and did the same. It didn’t take long to notice that at least a few of the girls in there were ‘professionals’–they were trying just a bit too hard. It was already around midnight, but we decided it would be best to check out another spot and maybe return later when things had picked up a bit.
We had spotted another venue, Club Bacardi, while we were searching for Golden Bull earlier. It looked pretty ritzy and expensive but we were immediately impressed by the lack of cover charge and the huge amount of people there. We went up to the bar to grab some drinks and were promptly greeted by a couple of guys sitting next to us. They both spoke English and introduced themselves. One was working for Interpol and the other was working as a tour guide for a Turkish company. It turns out that one of them was the former owner of Golden Bull. He said he sold it a few months back because he wasn’t making any money off of it and the only girls that went there were prostitutes. That definitely confirmed our suspicions! We hung out with the two guys, taking turns buying rounds of drinks, and eventually headed to the dance floor for a bit before jumping in their cars and heading over to another venue. Nearby Club Platinum was also packed full of people. We scammed our way in without paying any cover and continued partying for a bit. Things started to deteriorate when one of the guys ordered a round of shots and then tried to have me pay for it. I said I was out of cash (I had already bought a round a few minutes earlier) and they said they only had their credit cards on them…which couldn’t be used at that particular bar. One of them, the one that was more drunk I’m assuming, told the management to contact me regrading the additional $8 payment. I’m out looking for Collin so we can leave the place before things get worse when one of the staff, a pretty big guy, comes over to me and grabs my arm demanding payment. I protest that I didn’t order it and to talk to my ‘friends’ but he doesn’t understand me and tells me to come with him to the back room. Nooo way. I direct him over to where the guys were sitting and tell them to pay up. I’m pretty pissed off at this point but maintain my composure and stand my ground. Eventually one of the guys hands over his credit card and passport with the understanding that he’ll get them back tomorrow when he covers the rest of the charge.
The other guy had just won a very dancing competition with a random girl (that ended with both of them taking off each other’s shirts in the middle of the dance floor) and they were sitting down drinking their prize–a bottle of Bacardi. Collin was next to them and after they leave to get up and go dance again he relates that the guy had been bad-mouthing us because of our refusal to pay their tab and bragging about how much money he has and how he drive a Jaguar (odd, since he didn’t have a som to his name that night!). Collin was also getting upset about their antics so we hightailed it out of there and went back to the hotel for the night. It was already 5:00AM, time for bed anyway!
The next day was pretty uneventful. We got up late, grabbed some lunch at a cafe, tried to find a local German-style brewery that didn’t seem to exist anymore, and settled for the local Keller’s brew-pub (the same chain that we had been to so many times in Dushanbe). After that we took a long walk over to the Zeppelin Bar for a few hours of rock ‘n’ roll performed by a Kazakh cover band. They were pretty good and we enjoyed their renditions of classics such as Billie Jean, Smoke On The Water, and Love Struck Baby.
The next day, Monday, was Kyrgyz Independence Day (see following post). On Tuesday we made our way down to the Kazakh Embassy to get our visas so that we could catch our flights departing Friday. It was the normal visa pain-in-the-ass routine: we would have to fill out a long form about every detail of our lives, get pictures taken, multiple copies of our passports and visas, go to some bank in the middle of town and pay $30 each, and then come back on Thursday since they didn’t work on Wednesday. Oh, and no, we couldn’t get rush processing. That would be a problem since we would miss our flights in that case, so we showed him our flight papers and he replied “Okay.” We hoped that that meant “Okay, we can rush process your visas on Thursday, no problem!” We couldn’t find that out however as he closed the door in our face–hey, it was lunch time after all! On our walk home we made a wrong turn somewhere and ended walking way past the city for a few hours, ending up on the outskirts of town where we hopped a bus back to where we actually wanted to be. That night we had dinner at Cafe Mazai, located not too far from where we were staying in the northern part of the city. The small restaurant was located down some steps in a faux cave-like setting. Cafe Mazai specializes in rabbit dishes so we ordered ‘spicy rabbit’, ‘rabbit with sauce’, and ‘rabbit noodle soup’. It was all very delicious; the presentation, prices and service were fantastic–very much recommended on your next trip to Bishkek.
On Wednesday we were supposed to finally get out of the city for a change and take a trip south to Ala-Archa canyon, but the day started off cold and cloudy so we aborted that idea in favor of yet another leisurely day of eating (great Korean restaurant right on the main stretch) and drinking in the capital. Unsurprisingly, we ended up going to the Bacardi Lounge Bar yet again–definitely the classiest, most interesting place in town. On Thursday we got up early and proceeded back to the Kazakh Embassy again to collect our visas. Things went (surprisingly) smoothly and we were out of the city on our way to Almaty via taxi by mid-afternoon.
Pictures have been posted in the gallery.