We watched Borat for the first time four days before arriving in Kazakhstan. If you haven’t watched Borat, you should…it is funny.
The ironies of the movie, and our travel here are large. In the movie, Borat is played by a Jew while Borat’s fat producer is an Armenian. Whenever they speak in ‘Kazak’ to each other they are actually using Hebrew and Armenian respectively. We are Jewish, we watched the movie while inside Armenia, and then flew one of the only direct flights from Armenia to Kazakhstan.
Upon our arrival in the country portrayed as using horses to pull cars, we found two national airlines and one Tour de France championship team. (Alberto Contador’s Astana is named for the Kazakh capital, Astana) Sitting in the airport we have Lay’s potato chips and Dove chocolate bars to choose from…if that doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, I recommend you travel with us more often. As Borat would say….Very Niiiiiiccceeee. Did I mention this country ends with the letters S-T-A-N?
From the third largest city of Shymkent (which comes from the word for ‘cotton’) we made a pilgrimage out to the city of Turkistan (literally, land of the turks) to see the great mosque and mausoleum of the Turkic holy man Kozha Akhmed Yasaui. If we were Muslims, this little half day excursion would be equal to 1/3rd of a trip to Mecca. The site itself, aside from being an Islamic holy place, was a beautiful and massive building with an 18 meter dome, below which sat a giant cauldron for holding holy water. On the way home, our ears were talked off by a medical student who wanted either was looking to practice his English or to tell someone about his wonderful girlfriend he was going to visit.
We had planned to spend some time in Almaty and in Northern Kazakhstan but both the Kazakh and Russian Governments seemed to think otherwise. First, our reason for spending time there was to get a Russian transit visa to allow us to take the Trans-Siberian Railroad across to Mongolia, usually a one day process. For us dirty and dangerous Americans who are clearly old cold war hacks looking to foment massive rebellion…the process took a ridiculous two weeks…the visa would have been good for 7 days.
Then as we began to realize that Russia wasn’t going to happen, we learned that the border agents had somehow messed up on our passports and we weren’t registered in the country properly. As our visa came from the US, this should have been automatic. As we had already been in the country once, this should have already been done the first time. As luck would have it however, our migration card was missing the required stamp and this meant we either needed to head for the border or spend a day getting registered. As it took over and hour to even figure that much out at the police station, we opted to head for the border. A good thing too as the next day the Chinese closed their side in observance of their autumn moon holiday.
Our final few days in Central Asia pretty much encapsulate the region for us. We left Uzbekistan because we were afraid of a registration problem and to get our Russian visas…which was also a big fail. Then we ran out of Kazakhstan early for similar registration issues as we’d been afraid of with Uzbekistan. In the end, no issues or bribes were paid….but these were the only countries we even COULD travel to on our own. Africa was difficult on our mind and body, but in the end was an experience we will treasure forever. Central Asia however, was just a giant pain in the butt.
As Borat would say… “Not verrrry nice.”