04 Sep, 2009
Posted by: Scott In: The Rally
We were at the airport, it was late, and we were planning on taking a bus for the 12km ride to where our hotel was located. Unfortunately all of the buses had ended as it was near midnight. After coming out of customs we were immediately greeted by a man who shook our hand and expected us to follow him. Warning signals immediately went off in my head and I stopped to assess the situation. We changed some money at the currency office and asked the man if there were any buses running. Nope. He and his friend would be happy to drive us to our hotel for s small fee though! Of course. I had read in our Guide to Central Asia book that a taxi to the city center should cost around 2000 tenge or so but private car operators would frequently try and extort 4,000-5,000. I asked him how much it would be to get to where we were going and he replied that it would be 500 tenge (a bit over $3). Having been taken advantage of before and learned a lesson or two about how to deal with cab drivers I reasserted that it was indeed 500 tenge, not dollars, and even typed it on my phone for him to make sure. Sounded like a pretty good deal–who knows, maybe they just needed the money and were undercutting the competition!
They put our stuff in the back of the car and set off towards the city. We hadn’t yet gone a kilometer before the driver mentions offhandedly that yes, the fare was only 500 tenge–per kilometer! I immediately called foul and was about to tell them to just drop us off where we were, but it was late and we were in an relatively unpopulated section of the city. The driver’s friend takes out a laminated piece of paper that has ridiculously expensive fares to the local hotels printed on it, along with a statement listing that they did indeed charge 500 tenge per kilometer. We were hustled by a taxi driver yet again! Suddenly I was longing for Buster and the days where we didn’t have to deal with this kind of bull. We quickly conversed between ourselves and decided to just take the hit–we were tired and just wanted to check in to our hotel and crash for the night. We continued the drive, making small talk between ourselves and the two up front. They seemed like okay guys, despite the fact that they were trying to rip us off.
Arriving at our destination the driver’s friend asks if we would like a receipt for the ride. I say yes and he hands me a piece of paper with 11,500 tenge written as the total. 11,500!? We were expecting a maximum charge of 5,000-6,000, but this was just ludicrous. We expressed our displeasure at being ripped off and the driver says that the total is correct–we had driven 23 kilometers. Which was great and all, but we hadn’t driven anywhere near 23 kilometers in the last ten minutes. I told them that our map said that the airport was only twelve kilometers away–how could we have driven 23? Seemingly flabbergasted, the driver’s friend acts apologetic and replies that our map must be wrong. Riiight. We replied that we know that we didn’t just drive the distance that they stated, and the friend kept insisting that our map must be off. “Okay, you are tourist, we give you a discount–8,000 tenge” the driver grudgingly counters after much back and forth. We reply that that is still crazily expensive and we weren’t going to be taken for suckers. During the conversation the driver gets out and goes to the trunk, appearing to be sick of arguing and getting our stuff out of the back. As we continue debating with the friend I notice that it’s been a minute since we’ve seen the driver. Mid-conversation I get out of the car and take a peek at the back of the car, just in time to see the guy zipping up Collin’s backpack. I ask what he’s doing, going through our stuff, and he replies that it unzipped itself as he picked it up. Sure. The four of us continue debating and we convinced the driver’s friend to encourage him to accept 7,000, which is still far more than we should have paid.
We didn’t care in the end. We just wanted to sleep, and paying a few extra dollars was worth it. It still hurt that we had to pay $46 for a taxi ride in Kazakhstan though!